New Mexico hospital has made a habit of suing patients who can’t afford to pay medical debts

By Consumers For Quality Care, on February 5, 2020

New Mexico hospital has made a habit of suing patients who can’t afford to pay medical debts

As hospital prices continue to climb and more people are opting for cheaper high-deductible health plans with skimpy coverage, patients are being hit with massive bills and potential legal trouble if they cannot pay up in a timely fashion.

According to a new report from CNN, many Americans — even those with health insurance — are facing financial trouble after brief visits to hospital emergency rooms. As a result, many Americans are left in financial jeopardy.

Pair that with the alarming trend of hospital closures across the United States, and patients have fewer options for care during an emergency. For example, Carlsbad, New Mexico resident Misti Price has taken her children to the Carlsbad Medical Center for emergencies. The hospital is the only one for nearly 40 miles in any direction.

The Carlsbad Medical Center has been “particularly aggressive” in pursuing Price’s mounting medical bills, suing her for payment on five separate occasions.

“They’ve got a very cornered market,” said Misti’s husband, AJ Price, who was also sued by Carlsbad Medical Center four years ago after receiving treatment in the emergency room for a dislocated shoulder. “They are going to get every case, every injury, every accident [and] I think they prey on that — you’re going to pay our price and sorry about your bad luck, you can’t do anything about it.”

The hospital told CNN they only sue patients as a “last resort,” but it does not deny the damage the practice can inflict on patients.

“Doctors and hospitals should be paid fairly. I firmly believe that,” said Dr. Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But oftentimes these patients are being shaken down with the most aggressive and predatory practices we’ve ever seen in the history of medicine.”

The problem is not limited Price and her family either. CNN noted from a review of court records that the hospital has sued more than 3,000 patients over the past decade to collect debts.

Meanwhile, several other hospitals in the surrounding area have not sued any patients for unpaid medical bills, according to CNN’s analysis.