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‘There’s no way I can pay for this:’ One of the largest hospital chains has been suing thousands of patients during the pandemic

Imagine this: You or a loved one suffers from a severe health crisis and has to be rushed to the hospital. Then, months or years later, and during a pandemic-fuelled economic crisis, the hospital then sues you for thousands of dollars. According to a report by CNN, this is exactly what hospital chains in America have been doing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now there are thousands of patients stuck with bills that they simply can’t afford to pay. (1)


Hospital Chains Suing Patients For Thousands of Dollars During COVID-19 Pandemic

Hospital chains suing patients for unpaid hospital bills is not a new phenomenon – many hospitals do it. That being said, it is normally only done when patients have repeatedly ignored requests for them to address outstanding bills or have the credit scores and incomes to pay them but for whatever reason haven’t. (1)


Moberly Regional Hospital in Missouri, a part of Community Health Systems, Inc (CHS), sued more than 600 patients throughout the coronavirus pandemic. CHS has allegedly sued at least 19,000 patients since March 2020. Other hospitals have paused patient lawsuits for unpaid medical bills throughout the pandemic due to the economic crisis the country and its citizens are currently facing. These lawsuits range from $200 to $162,000. (1)


“I can’t think of a worse thing a hospital system can be doing than suing patients for medical bills during a pandemic and a recession,” said spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation Caitlin Donovan. (1)

Suing Despite Profits

After four years in a row of financial losses, CHS experienced its most profitable year in over 10 years. With a $511 million net income last year, their top executives received millions of dollars in bonuses. Meanwhile, they are suing patients who can’t afford their medical bills in the first place. The company says that they don’t sue too many of their patients and offer financial support to those who can’t pay their bills. They maintain that legal action is their last resort. (1)


“after it is determined the patient appears to have some ability to pay based on credit record and employment status or if the patient has been non-responsive” they said in a statement. (1)

According to CHS, they (1):

  • Do not sue anyone who lost their job because of the pandemic
  • Withdraw lawsuits against anyone making less than 200% of the federal poverty level ($25,760 per year)

Unfortunately, many patients simply do not fill out the forms required to make them eligible for these financial breaks. According to patients, they tried to contact CHS lawyers, collections agents, and even the hospital directly but to no avail. If they could get in contact with someone, they were unwilling to reach a settlement that the patient can actually afford. (1)


Hospitals Profiting Off Of A Pandemic

Reports show that the country’s wealthiest hospital systems are the ones making the most profit. Lennox hospital in New York charged patients 30 times the typical costs for COVID tests. Baylor Scott & White Health, Texas’ largest non-profit hospital system received $450 million in relief funds and sits on a surplus of $815 million. Despite this, they still laid off 1,200 workers. These are just a couple of examples of the thousands of hospitals that actually made money during the pandemic – and yet, they continue to sue patients who can’t pay expensive bills. (2)


“There’s a lot of talk in our healthcare system about putting patients first and social determinants of health, but this is not doing that. This is not taking care of patients first. Suing patients ruins their lives. It means you have to make decisions between paying your rent or paying a medical bill, putting food on your table or paying a medical bill.” says Elizabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York, co-founder of Health Care for All New York campaign. (2)

The Most Aggressive Hospital Chain

The CHS is not the only hospital chain to sue patients. According to experts, however, it is the most aggressive. Nine of the top 10 litigious hospitals in Texas, for example, are CHS hospitals. The company says that these results were false and the study was skewed. However, the company that filed the report says otherwise. CHS also claims that, unlike other hospitals, they don’t sell the medical debt to third-party companies that then file the lawsuits. This makes it seem like that they sue far more patients than other hospitals. (1)


We Just Can’t Afford To Pay”

Sued Patients are writing letters and pleading with courts, hospitals, and lawyers for leniency. Most of these people simply don’t have the financial means to pay these lawsuits, let alone the bills that the hospitals are suing them for. For many of them, these bills will ultimately put them out on the street. (1)


“I am currently doing my best not to drown,” one woman wrote in a letter to a CHS hospital. “I do not have anything left to give. If you take my check from me, I would have no place to live.” (1)

The hospital moved forward with her lawsuit, ordering her to pay not only her debt but also court and attorney fees. Her story is just one of the countless others. Single parents and cancer survivors making less than $40,000 per year, grandparents who have to support their grandchildren, people who were laid off from pandemic shutdowns, and more. John Hopkins researcher Christi Walsh says that the hospitals don’t even actually make much money off these lawsuits. Extorting former patients is entirely unnecessary. (1)


“It’s not keeping the lights on for the hospitals — they don’t need to be doing this,” she said. “But for the patients, some of them go bankrupt, some of them have money taken directly out of their paychecks … They’re choosing between medical care and food.” (1)

Currently, it is unclear whether or not the hospital will provide leniency or not. Until then, there are thousands of people currently trying to figure out how to pay these lawsuits while keeping a roof over their heads and food in their family’s stomachs at the same time. (1)

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  1. ‘There’s no way I can pay for this:’ One of the largest hospital chains has been suing thousands of patients during the pandemic.” CNN. Casey Tolan. May 18, 2021.
  2. “Pandemic Profiteers: Hospitals Sued Patients over Medical Debt While Getting Billions in Relief Aid” Democracy Now. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. April 6, 2021.