By Consumers for Quality Care, on January 3, 2024
Although many hospitals in Maryland stopped suing patients over unpaid bills in 2023, many consumers, particularly those who can least afford it, find themselves struggling under the weight of medical debt, according to The Baltimore Banner.
A new state law requires that hospitals offer affordable payment plans to patients before taking legal action to collect medical debt. This new law may be the reason why some hospitals are no longer suing their patients. Nevertheless, for many Marylanders, the medical debt crisis continues. The Banner reported that many hospitals, instead of simply suing their patients, are resorting to other debt collection tactics that are predatory in nature. In some cases, hospitals have sought payment from low-income consumers who were never told that they qualified for financial assistance to help pay for their care.
Michele Gregory found out first-hand what a medical emergency can do to a family’s finances. At 32 years old, her husband had a stroke, and his care left the family with enormous medical bills. When they could not pay their medical bills on time, the hospital sued the family to collect the unpaid balance. The Gregorys were able to recover financially from the experience, but it took them years to do so. Eventually, Michele won a seat on her hometown’s city council and used her position to advocate for a state law banning certain predatory debt collection practices used by hospitals.
The Banner also highlighted a report from state regulators that found hospitals billed a majority of consumers in 2017 and 2018 that should have received free care. Some of these consumers even paid these bills, not knowing that they qualified for financial assistance. This has resulted in hospitals making tens of millions of dollars each year from consumers who should not owe them anything.
Sometimes consumers find themselves owing medical debt for several procedures, as is the case for Rachel Chernow and her family. Her second pregnancy cost her $3,000, much more than her first pregnancy. On top of that, her eldest son had surgery, while her youngest needed his tonsils removed. Even though the Chernows are working to pay down their medical debts, the hospital still turned her account over to a collection agency in Virginia, which calls her daily to collect the debt. “I see that Virginia area code on my phone while I’m at work every day,” said Chernow. “It’s obnoxious.”
CQC calls on lawmakers and providers to help patients avoid crushing medical debt. CQC urges hospitals to better serve their communities, and to deliver care for patients when they need it most. CQC also urges lawmakers to hold health care providers responsible for informing patients that they may be eligible for financial assistance.