The last thing you need after suffering a serious injury or illness is to have the hospital sue you over your medical debt, garnish your wages or put a lien on your home. However, that’s what’s happening in many cases, according to a new study from Kaiser Health News (KHN).
The study, which examined over 500 hospitals (including eight in Oregon) found that most hospitals of all kinds nationwide use lawsuits and other aggressive measures like wage garnishment and liens as well as selling their debt and reporting people to credit agencies. Sometimes, people don’t even realize they’ve been reported until they try to get a loan or rent an apartment. About 20% even deny care (for non-emergency issues) to patients who owe them money.
Many hospitals provide little or no public information about their policies
What’s particularly difficult for patients and families is that these hospitals often don’t publicize just what they do about patient debt. Therefore, patients are often afraid to reach out to them about their debt. They don’t know if the hospital will be willing to work with them (as some do) or this will cause the hospital to pursue some kind of aggressive measure to collect on that debt.
The study found only a few providers who publicly state that they don’t use “extraordinary collection actions“ to collect on medical debts. Some states are starting to restrict the types of measures, such as wage garnishment and liens on homes, that hospitals can use. The study found that in areas where the major health care providers don’t use these “extraordinary” tactics, medical debt is considerably lower.
Getting financial assistance at nonprofit hospitals can be a challenge
Nonprofit hospitals that offer financial assistance often require patients to provide copious amounts of information about their income and assets. Some even count GoFundMe and similar measures patients have used to help with medical costs when considering their ability to pay.
If you’re overwhelmed with medical debt, it’s crucial to find out what options you have so that it doesn’t affect your ability to pay other bills and that you don’t become the victim of these aggressive collection tactics. Getting experienced legal guidance can help you protect your rights and choose the best solution for you.