Many Nonprofit Hospitals Sue Poorest Patients

Recently, NPR and ProPublica have been reporting about nonprofit hospitals that seize the wages of lower-income and working-class patients. Each year, hundreds of patients get their paychecks docked by hospitals and their debt collection arms. One family interviewed by NPR should have qualified for free medical care under the hospital’s own charity care policy. Instead, the family has been getting their wages seized for nearly 10 years, and still owes $25,000. Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says hospitals could be breaking the law by suing patients and docking their pay.

Grassley, R-Iowa, says he is “astounded” by these collection practices. Grassley has been working to make nonprofit hospitals more accountable for the huge tax breaks they get. Nonprofit hospitals don’t pay federal income tax or local property tax and in order to justify their tax-exempt status, must “earn” it by “taking care of people who couldn’t provide for their own health care.” Grassley says that under the ACA, a hospital has responsibility to make a determination: Can the person pay, or can they not? The ACA requires that hospitals take the initiative to determine whether patients qualify for aid and should not shift that burden onto patients. Grassley is now focusing on sending a wider message to nonprofit hospitals that he believes are being too aggressive collecting bills from patients who can’t afford to pay. According to Grassley, if hospitals don’t get the message, the health law may need to be strengthened so the poorest patient receive financial assistance.

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