RALEIGH — Following reports that several major hospitals and health care providers claim they are no longer suing patients over medical debts, State Treasurer Dale Folwell issued a statement to North State Journal.
“Their response is unbelievable when you look at the fact it took them almost a year to even post the policy on their website. It’s a little too little, a little too late for the thousands of people who have already had their lives and livelihoods ruined because they got sick,” Folwell said in an emailed statement. “Patients are still under siege as too many hospitals are hiding their prices, overcharging patients and then “kneecapping” them with lawsuits that inflict generational damage on a family’s finances.”
“These lawsuits have resulted in the biggest transfer of wealth of our lifetime — especially from lower- and fixed-income people— to these multibillion-dollar corporations who disguise themselves as nonprofits,” said Folwell. “It’s time that the Board of Trustees take responsibility for their actions and appoint members who represent the average citizen.”
Last month, Folwell’s office issued a report outlining 7,500 patients who had been sued by hospitals and large-scale health care groups for over $57.3M in judgments. In some of the cases, the hospitals had liens placed on homes of patients.
Five health systems, Atrium Health, Caromont Health, Sampson Regional Medical Center, Community Health Systems and Mission Health, were found to be responsible for filing 5,922 of the lawsuits, or 96.5%.
The report, conducted by Duke University Law researchers and Folwell’s office, found that hospitals won default judgments in the majority of the cases filed; around 60%. Additionally, patients reported not having the information they needed to understand the hospital bills in order to fight the lawsuit. Evidence was also found showing patients “had little say in these judicial proceedings.”
Over the past two weeks, Atrium Health Care quietly issued a statement indicating it has ended the practice of suing patients over medical debts.
“Atrium Health is continuously evaluating how we can best serve our patients and ensure equity in access to high quality care for all members of our communities,” Atrium said in a statement to North Carolina Health News. The outlet noted that Atrium “made no public announcement about the change, and it went largely unnoticed until now.”
“As part of our journey in making health care more affordable, and in advance of our combination, we stopped filing liens in November 2022 as a means of collecting unpaid debts owed by patients,” the Atrium statement says in part. “As part of the third-largest nonprofit health system in the country, we are working to align and unify our policies throughout our enterprise to offer best-in-class financial assistance programs for those most at risk the communities we serve. We expect to have more specific details in the months ahead.”
Atrium has stated to at least one media outlet they ceased the practice in November 2022, yet Atrium’s policy removing lawsuits from listed procedures that can be taken related to billing shows it was revised on Oct. 1.
Previously published policies designated small claims court actions for debts of up to $5,000 and lawsuits for anything above that amount.
Though not mentioned in Folwell’s report on medical debt lawsuits, Novant Health said in a statement to media that it hasn’t sued patients in “almost 25 years.”
“Filing lawsuits against patients for non-payment was common practice among hospital systems many decades ago,” Novant’s statement reads. “Novant Health’s policy to not take legal or judicial action against a patient for non-payment has been in place for almost 25 years.”