By Consumers for Quality Care, on February 7, 2024
A regional hospital in rural Oklahoma has filed close to 5,000 debt collection lawsuits against the residents of this 18,000-person town since the early 1990s, according to KFF Health News.
Residents like Sherry McKee have been sued multiple times by McAlester Regional Medical Center. McKee was recently sued for $3,375 to treat her vertigo, an amount that exceeds her monthly income. “There’s a lot that’s not right,” said McKee.
Janet Roloff, an attorney who provides legal services to low-income consumers in the McAlester area, where one in five residents live below the federal poverty line, says this issue “affects a large number of people in a small community. The impact is great.”
While the hospital reports providing charity care to low-income patients, records show that in fiscal year 2022, only $114,000 in charity care was provided despite the hospital having an operating budget of over $100 million. This amount is far below the $2 million – $3 million the average U.S. hospital with a similar operating budget would be expected to allocate for charity care.
McAlester Regional Medical Center has an ominous reputation among local residents that have been sued over medical debt. One patient who was sued twice would only speak to KFF out of anonymity due to the fear of the hospital potentially seeking retribution against her over any critical comments. She stated, “Everyone in this town probably has a story about McAlester Regional. It’s not even a secret.” This patient now avoids going to McAlester Regional if her children need care.
CQC urges providers and lawmakers across the nation to put an end to the use of predatory hospital debt collection practices. In the same vein, CQC urges nonprofit and public hospitals to hold up their end of the bargain to better serve their communities by providing charity care to those who need it and provide greater transparency of financial eligibility requirements for consumers.