Methodist Le Bonheur suspends debt collection suits amid backlash

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Memphis, Tenn.-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has suspended debt collection lawsuits over unpaid medical bills, according to NPR and MLK50, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare halted "court collection activities" after an investigation by MLK50 and ProPublica. The investigation provided details about the health system's collection practices, which include suing patients, some of which are its own employees, according to the report. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare filed more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients from 2014 through 2018, according to records analyzed by ProPublica.

"We recognize that we serve a diverse community and we are always thinking about how we can do more and serve our community better," Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare said in a written statement to NPR and MLK50. "Over the next 30 days we will be reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure we are doing everything possible to provide the communities we serve with the care and assistance they need. Also, we will immediately suspend any further court collection activities during this period."

On July 3, the health system dropped more than 24 cases that were set for their first hearings in Shelby County (Tenn.) General Sessions Court, according to the report.

In an op-ed published by The Commercial Appeal on June 30, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare CEO Michael Ugwueke defended the health system's charity care policies.

"Of the hundreds of thousands of patients we saw last year, we only went to court to collect debt from uninsured patients for less than one tenth of one percent of all the uninsured patients we saw, and only then after all other means to collect were exhausted," he wrote.

He said the goal of reviewing the health system's policies and procedures is to ensure patients get the financial assistance they need.  

"We want all patients to know and understand our financial assistance policies and we want to ensure our policies reflect our mission," he wrote.

Access the full NPR article here.

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