The federal government is accused in a published report of being “one of the most unforgiving debt collectors around,” as it seeks to collect unpaid medical debts from individuals who were treated at a military hospital in the United States.
Civilians owe nearly $200 million to military hospitals across the country, including more than $73 million to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Nearly 85% of the patients who were treated at one of the five military hospitals across the country were civilians, according to the report. Treating civilians with emergencies offer military doctors the opportunity to work with a variety of different types of injuries and prepare them for working in a war zone, should they ever be deployed.
The report includes profiles of a handful of individuals who were treated at a military hospital and did not have insurance or have decent insurance coverage. The report mentions that the government, or collection agencies working on its behalf, have garnished wages and tax refunds and withheld money from Social Security payments to cover unpaid medical bills.
Unlike regular hospitals, which are required to offer charity care, military hospitals are required to take “prompt and aggressive action” when seeking to collect on unpaid bills, according to guidelines issued by the Department of Defense.
Said one attorney who worked a t legal aid society: “It’s like a steamroller with all the might of the federal government behind it collecting unjust, inflated amounts from people’s Social Security.”
The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which is responsible for collecting debts owed to military hospitals, said in a statement that while it is “required by law to collect debts, [it] works to ensure that debtors are treated fairly and receive proper notices and opportunities to dispute the debts, as well as the chance to repay debts over time.”