New Mexico hospital sued thousands of patients for medical debt

Carlsbad (N.M.) Medical Center has filed 3,000 lawsuits against patients over medical debt since 2015, an astronomically high number compared to most other hospitals, according to The New York Times.

Rising medical costs and surprise bills are affecting patients throughout the U.S., but one-hospital towns like Carlsbad are among those most affected. The hospitals have little competition when negotiating with payers, so they can more easily raise rates, and residents have few other options for care. 

In response to The New York Times' inquiries, Carlsbad Medical Center said Aug. 30 it will no longer sue patients with incomes under 150 percent of the federal poverty line. It will also release current court judgments against patients who have already been sued and whose incomes fall within this range, and uninsured patients will be billed at a lower cost that reflects Medicaid reimbursement rates, the hospital said.

"The majority of accounts from which we seek to collect payment are patients with insurance who have not fulfilled their deductible, copayment or coinsurance responsibility set by their health insurance plan — and who have chosen not to enter into a payment arrangement for those amounts," the hospital told The New York Times.

A few other U.S. hospitals have also sued patients at higher-than-average rates. Virginia hospitals collectively filed over 20,000 lawsuits over patient debt in 2017, and just five hospitals accounted for half of the wage garnishments resulting from the lawsuits. Memphis, Tenn.-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare filed 8,300 lawsuits from 2014 to 2018.

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