In a coordinated effort, a pair of bills were introduced in the Maryland state legislature that target how medical debts are collected on the same day that a number of consumer groups released a report spotlighting the legal collection efforts of hospitals in the state.
A copy of the report, “Preying on Patients: Maryland’s not-for-profit hospitals and medical debt lawsuits” can be accessed here. It was released by National Nurses United, the AFL-CIO, Coalition for a Humane Hopkins, and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. It includes a county-by-county breakdown of lawsuits filed by hospitals, data on the amount of declining charity care offered by hospitals in Maryland, and attempts to make the argument that “there is no economic rationale for Maryland hospitals to sue so many of their patients.”
The two bills that were introduced were the Medical Debt Protections Act (House Bill 1081 and Senate Bill 873) and the Financial Assistance Policies and Bill Collections Act (House Bill 1420 and Senate Bill 875).
The Medical Debt Protections Act would prohibit lawsuits being filed against individuals with medical debts under $5,000 and require hospitals to offer “reasonable payment plans.”
The Financial Assistance Policies and Bill Collections Act would require hospitals to take more steps to screen patients for financial assistance opportunities before placing accounts with collection agencies and give patients more rights to sue if those steps are not taken.
“We need to protect Marylanders from the outrageous possibility that getting sick can lead to bankruptcy, homelessness, and destitution,” said Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, who sponsored House Bill 1081. “The stories we’ve heard from patients who have been sued are disturbing and heartbreaking. We can see the extent of the problem of medical debt collection lawsuits. We can also see that some hospitals use a range of other strategies to support patients to pay their bills and receive financial assistance. Predatory lawsuits are not necessary to keep hospitals solvent and they are not just. The legislation I have introduced adds guardrails to our system so that the legal system is not used to intimidate and discourage Marylanders from seeking medical care.”