New Mexico hospital sues thousands of patients for unpaid bills

Carlsbad (N.M.) Medical Center has sued more than 3,000 patients in the last 10 years over medical bills, according to court records reviewed by CNN.

The hospital, a 115-bed facility, is owned by for-profit operator Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems.

While it is not the only U.S. hospital filing debt collection lawsuits against patients, its collection efforts are particularly aggressive compared to other hospitals in the area, the cable news TV channel reported. Patients noted instances at Carlsbad of garnished wages, liens on homes and multiple lawsuits. The efforts have been to collect from insured patients as well as those without insurance.

Marty Makary, MD, a surgeon at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine, wrote a new book, "The Price We Pay," which discusses medical debt and hospitals suing patients.

He told CNN the issues Carlsbad patients face are a result of factors including rising hospital prices and the increased use of high-deductible health plans. Dr. Makary also noted that the hospital in southeastern New Mexico is the only hospital within about a 40-minute radius, meaning patients who need emergency care have limited options.

The hospital said it sues less than 1 percent of its patients and only sues as a "last resort," according to the TV channel.

Carlsbad CEO Cathy Hibbs told CNN: "Absolutely no patient pays the full price of our services. We provide charity care for anyone who qualifies and substantial discounts for everyone else. [For] those who struggle to pay their hospital bills, we offer additional discounts and reasonable, extremely low payment plans."

Since the news channel contacted Carlsbad, the hospital has made changes, according to CNN. Ms. Hibbs said the hospital will stop suing patients earning below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, release current court judgments against patients who have proof their income is below that 150 percent, and reduce bills for uninsured patients  to "roughly the equivalent of the reimbursement the hospital receives for Medicaid patients."

Read the full CNN report here.

 

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