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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tax-exempt hospitals are again raising eyebrows over how they harass patients, often the poorest, in court by trying to recoup medical debts.

Driving the news: ProPublica and MLK50 published a deep dive yesterday on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, a $2 billion not-for-profit and faith-based hospital system in Tennessee that has filed more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients over the past 5 years.

  • One of the patients featured in the story made less than $14,000 last year, and Methodist is suing her for more than $33,000. The hospital operates in the second-poorest large metropolitan area in the nation.
  • Methodist obtained wage garnishment orders in almost half of the cases it filed between 2014 and 2018, meaning that the debtor's employer was required to send the court a portion of the worker's after-tax income.

Between the lines: As we wrote this week, hospitals taking patients to court is both common and longstanding.

The bottom line: Not-for-profit hospitals market themselves as charities, but they act more like for-profit peers — renewing questions of whether those organizations’ tax exemptions are justified.

  • Coincidentally, the American Hospital Association released a paper Thursday touting hospitals' community benefits, but the paper has some of the same flaws as prior analyses.

What we're watching: These practices have drawn the ire of Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is now chairman of the powerful Finance Committee.

  • "Such hospitals seem to forget that tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. In addition to withholding financial assistance to low-income patients, they give top executives salaries on par with their for-profit counterparts," Grassley wrote in a 2017 op-ed.

Go deeper: Hospitals are swimming in cash

Go deeper

The modern way to hire a big-city police chief

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When it comes to picking a city's top cop, closed-door selection processes have been replaced by highly public exercises where everyone gets to vet the candidates — who must have better community-relations skills than ever.

Why it matters: In the post-George-Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
16 mins ago - Economy & Business

Speculative crypto art market takes off

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

New coronavirus cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections continued their sharp decline over the past week, and are now back down to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

The big picture: Given the U.S.’ experience over the past year, it can be hard to trust anything that looks like good news, without fearing that another shoe is about to drop. But the U.S. really is doing something right lately. Cases are way down, vaccinations are way up, and that’s going to save a lot of lives.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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