New York Times Podcast Profiles Hospital Lawsuits Against Patients

By Consumers For Quality Care, on December 18, 2019

New York Times Podcast Profiles Hospital Lawsuits Against Patients

A recent podcast featuring Sarah Kliff, an investigative health care reporter for the New York Times, tells the story of a low income woman in rural Virginia who was recently sued by the hospital where she sought emergency care for her daughter’s back pain.

When Amanda Sturgill’s daughter felt sudden back pain one day after bending over a bathtub, Sturgill never expected her trip to the emergency room would end in legal action against her and her family. This story illustrates how medical emergencies can devastate working families and how increasingly aggressive hospital billing practices aggravate the situation.

You can listen to the Times podcast here. Below are some transcribed excerpts:

MICHAEL BARBARO: So she has fallen behind on this bill, and the hospital is now taking her to court over this unpaid bill.

SARAH KLIFF: Exactly, and things have moved from the billing department into the courtroom. Amanda has a court date.

BARBARO: Sarah, nothing about this sounds normal. A mother with a solid job and health insurance suddenly has a sheriff at her door, and she faces legal action over falling behind on a medical bill.

KLIFF: It is actually becoming surprisingly common in our health care system. There are thousands of Americans many with private insurance currently being sued by their hospitals. They’re in big cities. They’re in small towns. And the reason I know this is actually the story of how I found Amanda.

BARBARO: Why is that the case? Why are people with jobs and insurance falling behind on their payments and now being sued?

KLIFF: So in order to understand that, I think you need to zoom out from the courtroom and look at a big change that has been happening in our health care system over the past decade or so. What I see in my reporting is patients consistently being asked to spend more and more of their own money on health care, even when they have insurance. A really perfect example of this is deductibles. That’s the amount that a patient has to pay before their insurance will start kicking in and covering their doctor visits and their hospital trips. If you look back to, like, 2006 or so, only about half of people who had insurance even had a deductible. They weren’t that common. You flash forward to this year, and 82% of people who get insurance at work now have a deductible. The size of the average deductible has about tripled between 2006 and 2018. It used to be about $600. Now it’s about $1,700.