A trio of doctors from UVA Health have come out against their employer’s “aggressive, pitiless billing and collections practices” saying they felt “betrayed” by the organization’s breaking of a “social contract” between physicians and the individuals they treat.
The doctors called on UVA Health to stop filing all lawsuits against patients with unpaid debts while also noting that “the survival of not-for-profit hospitals cannot be assured by the relentless pursuit of debt from the very patients for whom we are expected to be the safety net.”
The letter, written by Drs. Scott K. Heysell, Michael D. Williams and Rebecca A. Dillingham, was published by Kaiser Health News, which first reported that the health system had filed more than 36,000 lawsuits in a six-year period seeking to recover unpaid medical debts. UVA Health subsequently announced changes to its collections policies and procedures, including the suspension of lawsuits that had already been filed and expanding the criteria for those who might be eligible to receive charity or uncompensated care from the health system.
“We stand with those that have been financially injured, whose bank accounts have been looted, whose homes have been swallowed as if they were built on quicksand, whose credit scores were ruined and whose mental health and energy were spent in a courtroom or in anxious conversations with lawyers — all as a result of having sought our care,” the doctors wrote in their letter. “We commit to working at UVA, our beloved professional home, to advocate for leaders of high moral integrity, to regain the trust of our patients and to repair to the greatest extent possible the damage that has been done. We call on our community, and especially our fellow clinicians, to demand that the precious resource of our public, not-for-profit hospitals protect our ethical responsibility to first do no harm.”
Published reports have spotlighted the collection practices at a host of other healthcare networks. Hospitals in Virginia, Oklahoma, New York, Tennessee, and Maryland have all been accused of being too aggressive with their collection efforts. But this marks the first time that doctors at a healthcare organization have spoken out against how the bills associated with the treatments provided by the doctors are collected.