Pandemic hasn't stopped nonprofit New York hospitals from suing patients over unpaid bills

New York banned state-run hospitals from pursuing medical debt collections last spring due to the pandemic, but court records show many nonprofit hospitals in the upstate region have continued pursuing collections through litigation, according to a recent report from the Community Service Society of New York.

Court records showed hospitals had filed 548 lawsuits against Albany County residents between March and December 2020. The number grows to 738 if lawsuits against patients who live outside the county are included, according to Times Union.

Thirty percent of patients sued by nonprofit hospitals live in communities with high uninsured rates, 28 percent live in communities where people of color make up the majority, and 26 percent live in communities where at least half the households have annual incomes below $50,000, according to an analysis of a representative sample of lawsuits filed in Albany County courts.

The hospitals that filed the lawsuits include Albany Memorial Hospital, Albany Medical Center, Albany-based St. Peter’s Hospital, Troy-based Samaritan Hospital and Schenectady-based Ellis Hospital.

St. Peter’s Health Partners, which owns St. Peter’s Hospital and Samaritan Hospital, is responsible for 71 percent of all medical debt lawsuits filed in Albany County courts between 2015 and 2020, according to an analysis of court records. Albany Medical Center is responsible for 23 percent, and Ellis Hospital is responsible for 5 percent.

When contacted by Times Union, the hospitals defended the lawsuits, with some specifying that suing is a last resort they turn to when other payment collection attempts have failed.

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