Providence debt collector ordered to pay $827K for rights violations

A Washington judge ordered a debt collection agency hired by Renton, Wash.-based Providence to pay $827,000 for violating patients' medical debt collection rights more than 82,000 times. 

The judge found that the agency, Optimum Outcomes, collected payments from patients without providing critical information about their rights when faced with medical debt, according to a March 20 news release from the Washington attorney general's office. This kept patients who would likely have qualified for financial assistance from learning about and accessing help with their hospital bills. 

The $827,290 — $10 per violation — will go to the state's general fund, according to the release. 

The ruling ends a case against Providence and two collection agencies that began in 2022. In February of that year, the attorney general sued Providence, alleging that 14 of its hospitals engaged in aggressive tactics to collect payment, failed to ensure discounts for eligible low-income patients, and steered poor patients to debt collectors. That summer the lawsuit was expanded to include Optimum and the health system's other debt collection agency, Harris & Harris.

In February, Providence agreed to provide $157.8 million in refunds and debt relief to low-income patients as part of a settlement agreement. Later that month, Harris & Harris agreed to pay $1 million to resolve the allegations against it.  

Optimum was the only defendant that took its case to trial. The company is also ordered to reimburse the attorney general's office for bringing the case to trial, according to the release. That cost is estimated to exceed $400,000. 

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