U of Virginia Medical Center asks state to reduce couple's tax refund to pay 20-year-old medical bill

The University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville asked the state to reduce a couple's income tax refund to help pay a 20-year-old medical bill, according to The Washington Post. 

The Charlottesville couple received a notice from the Virginia tax department last October that said their $220 income tax refund had been reduced to $110 because of an outstanding bill from the medical center.

The couple then called the University of Virginia Medical Center to better understand the details about the unpaid bill. 

The couple found out by calling that the medical center asked the tax department to withhold the money for unpaid bills from the care their son received in 2001 and 2002. 

Jane Collins and her husband Anthony Blow received financial documents from the hospital after expressing confusion over the unpaid bill. Those documents revealed that the bills related to three hospitalizations of their son, who was born prematurely.

"The amount is not the issue; it’s this whole idea that you can go after something that is so old," Ms. Collins told The Washington Post. "Maybe technically you are entitled to that money, but do you mean to tell me you can go into the deep recesses of your computer and now you’re going to take this?"

Virginia is one of a dozen states that can siphon residents' income tax refunds to help collect unpaid debts, according to the report. 

Many health systems in Virginia first attempt to collect debts by themselves or by using a collection agency. If those options fail, they will ask the tax department for help. The tax department uses Social Security numbers to match claims submitted by the hospitals with a person's income tax refunds. When there is a match, the system will withhold all or part of the refund and send it to the health system. 

A University of Virginia Medical Center spokesperson told The Washington Post that patient privacy laws prevented him from speaking about specific cases, but noted that the system routinely screens people for financial assistance and that the tax refund withholding is a last resort for overdue medical bills.  

Read the full report here. 

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