Viewpoint: CHS 'predatory billing' threatens public trust

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Aggressive collection practices used by Community Health Systems could diminish trust in healthcare institutions, Marty Makary, MD, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health told NPR

CHS, an 84-hospital system based in Franklin, Tenn., filed at least 19,000 lawsuits against patients during the COVID-19 pandemic to collect unpaid bills, according to the report, citing an investigation by CNN. The number could be higher because lawsuits the company filed on behalf of hospitals it has sold may not have been counted, according to NPR

Many hospitals and health systems, including for-profit hospital operator Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, do not sue patients over unpaid medical bills. Some hospitals have stopped suing because it can tarnish their brand and doesn't result in big payouts, Dr. Makary, who wrote a book about healthcare billing, told NPR. However, CHS continues to sue to collect unpaid bills. 

"Community Health Systems, in all of our research of hospital pricing and billing practices, stands out as an aggressive institution that uniformly, across the country, engages in very aggressive predatory billing — suing patients in court to garnish their wages," Dr. Makary told NPR

Dr. Makary said aggressive billing and collection practices by hospital chains "threatens public trust in our community institutions" and could cause patients to think twice before seeking medical care, according to the report 

"We continually evaluate modifications to our collection practices to support patients who struggle to pay their hospital bills," a CHS spokesperson told NPR

Since January, the company has only sued patients who make at least twice the federal poverty level. A CHS spokesperson told Becker's the company will withdraw litigation against any patient whose annual income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and the change also applies to prior judgements. 

"Some of these may not have made it through all the court processes yet but the dismissals have been initiated," the spokesperson said. "Any individual who is currently a defendant in a collection suit and who has an annual income less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Line is encouraged to call 1-800-755-5152 and submit a financial assistance application."

Read the full NPR article here

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