Northwell Health expects to hire medical debt ombudsman when public health emergency ends

Northwell Health said in June that it was creating a medical debt ombudsman, and the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based system told Becker's Hospital Review on April 18 it is recruiting for the position. 

"We haven't really felt the pressure to fill the role, although we are recruiting, because we've been in a pause on any legal actions related to medical debt since the beginning of the public health emergency," said Rich Miller, Northwell Health's executive vice president and chief business strategy officer. 

Mr. Miller said Northwell is not expecting to take any legal actions regarding medical debt until after the COVID-19 health emergency ends and the ombudsman position is filled. The emergency recently was extended through July 15.

When an ombudsman is hired, it will be an internal role, Mr. Miller said. He said the health system is considering whether to fill the role internally or by partnering with an external firm. 

"We came to a conclusion several months ago that we would fill the role internally but that the reporting of the position would be independent of the revenue cycle," he said. "So we decided to have the role report up to our compliance department." 

The ombudsman will be responsible for reviewing any legal actions before they are taken and for ensuring they are in agreement with the health system's policies and procedures, Mr. Miller said. 

"The individual will have the ability to 'veto,' so to speak, moving forward on a legal action if they believe the legal action is not justified and supported by our policies and procedures," he said. 

Mr. Miller said although legal actions regarding medical debt are rare at Northwell, the system believes it is important to have a check and balance for that process.


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