When Hospitals Act as Debt Collectors
“Ugh...” you groan, through the blurry haze of pain medication and sleep. As you become aware of your surroundings, you notice a dark figure standing over the bed. The shape begins to come into focus. You’re unfamiliar with this person. It’s not a friend or loved-one, but rather a complete stranger. “Hello,” it says, with a forced smile. The person hands you a piece of paper, labeled “Bill for Services Rendered,” and asks “Will that be Visa or Mastercard?”
Sound melodramatic? Well, it’s actually happening in U.S. hospitals. We spoke about this last month when discussing Three Horrifying Acts by Debt Collectors. Chicago-based debt collection company, Accretive Health, was accused of harassing patients while they were in the hospital. Lori Swanson, the Attorney General for the State of Minnesota, filed the suit against Accretive for these practices.
In response to this litigation and the accompanying publicity, The Treasury Department recently proposed rules that would require non-profit hospitals to give patients a four- month grace period to find financial assistance to pay their bill prior to a collection agency.
The Treasury Department’s web site describes the proposed rules as well as other limitations such as:
• The establishment and disclosure of the hospital’s financial assistance policy • Limitations on charges
• The establishment of non-discriminatory emergency medical care policies
The success of The Treasury Department’s rules will be based on a number of factors. The most prominent being whether or not they have the power to pass such rules. Opponents of the law make seek to find loopholes in the legislative mandate that creates and dictates the department’s powers. If one is found, The Treasury Department’s actions may be found unconstitutional.
However, this is a tough challenge and as hospitals continue providing over $39 billion worth of care to persons who cannot afford to pay, this problem is unlikely to go away.
Matthew A. Dolman, Esq, is Clearwater personal injury and consumer protections attorney. As a senior partner of the Dolman Law Group, Mr. Dolman represents clients throughout the Tampa Bay area, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Pasco counties. The Dolman Law Group provides free consultations and case evaluations for individuals who feel they are being harassed by debt collectors. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact our Clearwater Office at: (727) 451-6900.
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