Northwell creates new role: medical debt ombudsman

Northwell Health is creating an independent medical debt ombudsman, the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based health system said June 15.

Northwell said it is the only hospital or health system in the U.S. to have such a role. The medical debt ombudsman will act as an independent reviewer to help patients pay their medical debt and avoid legal action by educating them about the health system's financial assistance options.

"I want to underscore that Northwell does not pursue legal action against patients who do not have the ability to pay," Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO, said in a news release. "However, in order to continue to provide this extraordinary level of financial assistance to people who need it most, it is important that patients who have the resources to pay for their care continue to do so, as it is their responsibility and obligation."

The new position was announced a day after Johns Hopkins University released a report investigating the billing and debt collection practices of the 100 U.S. hospitals with the highest revenues between 2018 and mid-2020. 

The report showed that 26 of the 100 U.S. hospitals with the highest revenues filed nearly 39,000 court actions against patients, which is likely an undercount since some court records remained inaccessible during the investigation. Six of the 26 hospitals were in New York.

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