By Consumers for Quality Care, on January 31, 2024
A recent study conducted by JAMA (and reported on by the Lown Institute) found that hospitals continue to engage in predatory debt collection practices and other anti-consumer behavior, worsening the medical-debt crisis that affects an estimated 100 million Americans.
The growth of medical debt in America has brought devastating consequences for patients. Consumers with medical debt are more likely to delay or skip medical care, for fear of falling further into debt. According to CQC research, 60 percent of consumers said they have skipped or delayed care at some point out of concerns over out-of-pocket expenses.
Hospitals, including nonprofit hospitals, have been known to deny non-emergency care to patients that owe a certain amount of medical debt. They have also been known to take legal action against those with outstanding bills. The JAMA study found that nearly one-third of hospitals “take legal action against patients for late payment or insufficient payment of a medical bill.” The study also found that almost half of the hospitals surveyed didn’t issue an itemized bill to uninsured patients within 30 days. Some hospitals even lacked a department or a representative that could help consumers with billing issues.
Recently, states have begun to pass legislation protecting consumers from these predatory practices. Colorado and New York now prohibit medical debt from being included on consumer credit reports, and a bill in the New York State Senate is seeking to protect consumers under a certain income level from being sued by hospitals over medical bills.
The Lown Institute, with the support of Arnold Ventures, is currently compiling data on hospital billing practices. This data-gathering project is meant to help educate consumers about these billing practices and also influence hospitals to enact better, more consumer-friendly policies.
Hospitals should be part of the solution to America’s medical debt crisis. CQC urges hospitals to better serve their communities and to deliver care for patients when they need it most.