Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, has issued a blistering report that calls out the United States for allowing “abusive medical billing and debt collection practices” that undermine human rights through the use of a “profoundly flawed” system.
A copy of the report, titled “In Sheep’s Clothing” can be accessed by clicking here.
The report makes several recommendations for state and federal legislators, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Nonprofit hospitals across the country. Among the recommendations are:
- Consider adopting the National Consumer Law Center’s Model Medical Debt Protection Act, in whole or in part, which has relevant statutory language that can address many of the issues described in this report
- Prioritize enforcement actions against debt collectors that fail to ensure that patients have been fully informed about and screened for financial assistance before pursuing collection
With respect to the portions of the report that specifically deal with how unpaid medical debts are collected, it calls out hospitals for sending unpaid debts that likely would have qualified for charity care or financial assistance to collection agencies, which lead to individuals being sued for not paying their debts.
“Nonprofit hospitals are contributing to medical debt and engaging in abusive billing and debt collection practices,” said Matt McConnell, the author of the report, in a published article. “The reason this keeps happening is the absence of clear guidelines and the federal government’s inadequate enforcement of existing regulations.”
In response, the American Hospital Association wrote, “We recognize that some patient debt is incurred when patients who would otherwise qualify for financial assistance decline to apply,” but the report says that such choices are usually driven more by “hospital practices than patient choices.”