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At hospital nonprofits, lawsuits frequently target former patients

A patient waiting to leave the hospital
Photo: Darren Kemper/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Nonprofit hospitals are aggressive about suing patients to collect unpaid bills — in some ways, even more aggressive than their for-profit counterparts.

Driving the news: 36% of Virginia hospitals sued former patients and garnished their wages in 2017, according to a new study. And nonprofit hospitals account for the lion's share of those suits.

  • One hospital in particular — Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va. — sues so many patients that the local court sets aside one morning each month just to hear those cases, NPR reports.

By the numbers: The money is negligible for hospitals but potentially "ruinous" for individual patients, one expert told NPR.

  • On average, garnished wages account for 0.1% of Virginia hospitals' revenues.
  • The average garnished amount is about $2,800, which can put a big dent in workers' checks, though some patients have been sued for more than $10,000.

The other side: Mary Washington told NPR it has to recoup its costs, that it makes many other efforts to contact patients before suing them, and that filing a lawsuit is a way "to open that door of communication so that we can work with them."

From the WSJ's writeup of the same study:

  • "The Trump administration has pushed for aggressive action aimed at nonprofit-hospital monopolies, but was rebuffed by career staff at the U.S. Treasury Department, according to a person familiar with the negotiations."

Go deeper: Nonprofit hospitals increasingly act like for-profit companies