CHS has sued 19,000 patients for unpaid bills amid the pandemic

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Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems has filed at least 19,000 lawsuits against patients to collect unpaid bills since March 2020, CNN reported May 17. 

The for-profit system, which has 84 hospitals across 16 states, has sued patients to recoup as little as $201 and as much as $162,000 in unpaid medical bills, according to the report.

CNN found that most patients CHS sued didn't hire a lawyer or fight the lawsuits, and judges often ruled in the company's favor by default. Additionally, CNN reported that the hospital operator's subsidiaries quickly moved to garnish defendants' paychecks after a ruling. 

In a statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review, CHS said legal action is always the "last resort" and only is pursued against patients who do not respond to numerous communication attempts and who appear to have resources to pay based on credit records or employment status. CHS also said its hospitals sue a small fraction of the patients they treat each year.

"Before initiating legal proceedings, our hospitals make repeated attempts to contact patients — often ten times or more — to communicate with them about their bill. Our hospitals do not sue patients we know can’t pay for their care — but they must rely on these patients to engage with them to demonstrate their financial status," CHS said. 

CHS also said it doesn't litigate against patients who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and that, under a new policy adopted earlier in 2021, it would withdraw lawsuits against anyone earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The hospital system said it encourages any individual who is a defendant in a debt collection suit who had a change in financial status due to COVID-19 or is a fit for its updated financial assistance policy to contact CHS. 

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