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Expand chart
Data: Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker; Chart: Axios Visuals

Low-income patients often face steeper out-of-pocket health care costs — and that means they're also more likely to be sued by hospitals when they can't pay their bills.

Driving the news: The New York Times yesterday reported on Carlsbad Medical Center's prolific use of lawsuits to collect its patients' medical debts, which often leads to wage garnishment or property liens.

  • The hospital is the only one in town and has filed nearly 3,000 lawsuits against patients since 2015, NYT found.
  • Its practices were first profiled in an upcoming book by Marty Makary, a doctor at Johns Hopkins, titled "The Price We Pay."
  • "The health insurance deductibles so often discussed in our health policy circles may seem inconsequential to wealthy people and to decision makers in the policy world, but they are crushing many Americans," Makary writes.

Not only are patients facing more out-of-pocket spending than ever before, but hospitals — including Carlsbad Medical Center — often greatly inflate their prices compared to Medicare rates.

  • Some of the hospitals suing patients — like Memphis' Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare — are nonprofits.
  • "Hospitals want to get all the perks of their nonprofit status…but really rake patients through the coals with their billing practices," Yale's Zack Cooper told me.

The bottom line: "There's a space for folks who are vulnerable to get caught in the cracks of our system ... [such as] higher cost sharing and out-of-pocket costs, skimpier health insurance plans, and more aggressive collection practices by hospitals and providers," Cooper said.

Go deeper: The only health care prices that matter to consumers

Go deeper

In photos: Protesters rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Chaz Neal, a Redwing community activist, outside the Minnesota Governor's residence during a protest in support of George Floyd in St.Paul, Minnesota, on March 6. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters were rallying outside the Minnesota governor's mansion in St Paul Saturday, urging justice for George Floyd ahead of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start this Monday, with jury selection procedures.

Biden says $1,400 stimulus payments can start going out this month

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Biden said Saturday that the Senate passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package means the $1,400 direct payments for most Americans can begin going out later this month.

Driving the news: The Senate voted 50-49 Saturday to approve the sweeping legislation. The House is expected to pass the Senate's version of the bill next week before it heads to Biden's desk for his signature.