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Why more hospitals are suing patients over medical debt

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2019 | Chapter 7

Many Americans are dealing with medical debt they simply can’t pay off. Even people with health insurance often have substantial deductibles, co-pays and large amounts of their bills that their plans don’t cover.

As medical debt increases, hospitals are more frequently taking patients and their families to court to get their money than they did in the past. Major hospitals (including nonprofit facilities, university-affiliated medical centers and children’s hospitals) are filing hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of suits every year. Many of these are accompanied by wage garnishments.

Hospitals defend the practice. They say it’s become necessary as deductibles have risen, and people are taking on more medical debt. Most employee health plans today (82%) have deductibles. The average deductible is $1,655.

High caps are also an issue — particularly for people who buy their insurance through the health insurance marketplace that originated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Getting a plan with a high cap and high deductible can save you money — until you have a serious injury or illness to deal with.

An executive with one health system says, “We’re only pursuing patients who have the means to pay but choose not to pay.” However, patient advocates and patients themselves say that many of them can’t pay.

The head of a nonprofit that helps people with medical debt says, “There is this new group of people who, on paper, look like they should be able to afford their bills. They’re middle-class, they have relatively good credit ratings, they’re not transient. But they have these big deductibles, and they can’t afford their bills.”

Wage garnishments can be particularly tough on people already struggling to keep up with their bills. Some have had to stop paying other bills, cancel their insurance, go on public assistance and use their credit cards to cover everyday expenses.

If you’re dealing with overwhelming medical debt that’s impacting your overall financial situation, it’s wise to seek help sooner rather than later. An experienced attorney can review your debt relief options and help you determine the best one for you.

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