AHA largely silent on suing patients for unpaid bills, even as chair's hospital partakes

The American Hospital Association has stayed relatively quiet on suing patients for overdue bills despite growing scrutiny around the controversial tactic, according to Kaiser Health News.

AHA, which represents about 5,000 hospitals, has published few guidelines on aggressive collection practices like suing, seizing homes or wages and pushing families into bankruptcy over unpaid medical bills. Morris Plains, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System, the hospital that the association's board chair leads, has sued patients more than 8,000 times in 2019 for unpaid bills, according to KHN's review of court records.

In a statement to KHN, an Atlantic Health System spokesperson said its "billing policy complies with all state and federal guidelines. While we are willing to assist patients no matter their financial situation, those who can pay should do so."

At the same time, Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health, whose CEO also sits on AHA's board, rarely sues patients for bills, with one leader telling KHN they haven't signed off on a legal action against patients since 2015.

Still, several health systems, like UVA Health System in Charlottesville and Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University Health System have faced criticism for suing patients. The AHA still has not issued an industry-wide standard on the practice. 

When asked this month about the practice, AHA CEO Rick Pollack told KHN: "We are reevaluating the guidelines [for collections and financial assistance] to ensure they best serve the needs of patients." AHA has previously said billing offices should "assist patients who cannot pay" and treat them with "dignity and respect." 

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