Wisconsin Hospitals Increasingly Sue Patients

(p. A8) Hospitals in Wisconsin have sued patients over medical debt at a rate that amounts to one out of every 1,000 residents a year, especially people in low-income areas and who are Black, a new study found.

The study, published Monday [Dec. 6, 2021] in the health-policy journal Health Affairs, found some hospitals were more likely than others to take patients to court and low-income and Black patients were disproportionately sued.

The findings highlight how the financial and legal jeopardy that patients face depends on which hospital they go to. The findings also add to mounting research on the consequences of medical debt, a problem that research shows is more acute among people who are uninsured.

Medical-bill lawsuits “are not a fait accompli,” said Zack Cooper, an economist with the Yale University School of Public Health and an author of the new lawsuit analysis. “This is very much a choice that these hospitals are making.”

. . .

Hospitals were suing people more for unpaid bills, the study also found. The rate increased to 1.53 lawsuits for every 1,000 residents in 2018, up from 1.12 lawsuits per 1,000 residents in 2001.

. . .

Dr. Cooper called for more data to better understand potential factors driving the disproportionate number of lawsuits among Black patients.

“First, Black patients could have a higher burden of unpaid medical bills, which leads them to get sued more on a per-capita basis,” he said. “Second, Black patients could have a similar amount of debt, but were more likely targeted by hospitals.”

For the full story, see:

Melanie Evans and Tom McGinty. “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2021): A8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 6, 2021, and has the title “Hospitals in Wisconsin Pursued Medical Debt Collection Widely but Unevenly, Study Finds.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version is “Hospitals Faulted on Medical-Debt Suits.” The title of my National edition of the print version is “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.”)

The article co-authored by Cooper, and discussed above, is:

Cooper, Zack, James Han, and Neale Mahoney. “Hospital Lawsuits over Unpaid Bills Increased by 37 Percent in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2018.” Health Affairs 40, no. 12 (Dec. 2021): 1830-35.

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