By Jim Manley, on October 6, 2020
More than 3 million people living in Nevada depend on hospitals during their time of need. Like most Americans, Nevadans turn to these institutions when sick or critically injured, and often the hospital is their only option for the care they urgently need.
This is even more true during the coronavirus pandemic. Hospital workers have been frontline heroes, and many hospitals have borne the dual challenges of preparing for and treating COVID-19 patients while scaling back other services to boost their capacity for COVID patients and prevent the spread of the virus.
The patients hospitals serve are also struggling. A recent study estimates that up to 12 million Americans may have lost their health insurance since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Even consumers with health care coverage are worried about how they will pay for the costs of care and treatment if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Unfortunately, even in the midst of a pandemic, some hospital systems are turning to predatory practices against consumers — targeting them with surprise medical bills, lawsuits, wage garnishments, liens on homes, and bank account seizures. A recent story that dozens of hospitals in a single hospital system have filed hundreds of lawsuits against patients for bills ranging from less than $1,000 to over $100,000 this year alone should signal an alarm bell for Nevadans.
The Silver State has medical debt and related bankruptcy at rates higher than the national average — with overall personal bankruptcy the eighth highest in the nation. Individuals burdened with past-due medical debt in Nevada (21%) also exceeds the national average of 16%. And, medical debt disproportionately affects communities of color in the state, with 26% of members of minority communities carrying past-due medical debt compared with 17% of white residents.
Nevada hospitals, too, have been known to target patients with toxic billing practices. Hospitals across the country and throughout the state are projecting significant losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. We urge consumers, legislators and regulators to be on the lookout and ensure that Nevada’s hospitals don’t look to increase their profits by piling predatory billing practices onto the backs of their patients who are struggling.
Unfortunately, regulatory bodies and national laws have failed to effectively limit harsh collections and address out-of-control costs. The American Hospital Association, a national organization representing hospital systems across the country, has issued few guidelines on these predatory tactics, and Congress has failed to address federal laws and regulations that leave consumers unprotected.
Consumers for Quality Care stands with Nevadans because everyone should be able to access the care they need — especially during this extended pandemic — without fear of financial ruin. We urge hospitals to make care more affordable for consumers and refrain from pursuing predatory practices that are causing them even more stress and harm, and we urge leaders at the state and federal level to put laws into place that prohibit this behavior.