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Opinion: Hospital report lacked background about patient bills

Opinion: Hospital report lacked background about patient bills

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To the editor:

The reprinted article concerning hospital debt litigation during the virus outbreak in your April 9 paper is an example of poor journalism as it combines misinformation with irrelevant details intended to sensationalize news in a time of suffering for many people.

Jordan, the under-insured woman whose story is the focus of this article, is described as being blindsided by receiving court papers while doing a puzzle on a Sunday evening in her home. The article states that "the lawsuit was the last thing she expected." Without discussion of additional facts, that is misleading. Hospitals have their billing departments contact patients numerous times in an effort to have bills paid before putting them into collection. When that happens, agencies and attorneys involved in collection of debts are required by law to contact each debtor with information about the debt prior to a lawsuit being filed. 

They are also required to address disputes raised by the debtor and cease collection efforts if the debtor is found not to owe the debt. They make repeated efforts to have the patient pay the bill or make a payment arrangement. Filing a lawsuit is the last step when all other efforts have failed when a case is filed, the defendant has an opportunity to get the case dismissed prior to judgment, not just by paying in full but by entering into a payment plan. The article makes no mention of this and does not report any effort by Jordan to enter into a payment plan. Would not a good reporter ask that question? The article may be read as suggesting she ignored all efforts to encourage her to avoid being sued.

The article again misleads by bemoaning that the hospital filed two lawsuits against Jordan, one for $5,000-plus, and another for $7,000-plus, giving the impression that this was a heavy-handed and unfair tactic. However, this was likely done because the small claim court limit is $10,000 per case and she owed the hospital over $12,000. If only one civil — large claim — case is filed, the standard court fees assessed against the defendant are $285.50, more than double the fees for two small claims filings at $114.50 per case. Therefore, the double filing saved her money. 

These facts were not mentioned. The article reports that this hospital ceased filing lawsuits, but suggests that other health care providers continue to file lawsuits during the virus pandemic. Most health care providers in Wisconsin have ceased filing lawsuits, and that self-imposed moratorium is likely to continue for some time. 

The problem for Jordan and many others is never mentioned in the article — the lack of universal health care coverage in the United States. In other developed nations, Jordan would have some form of universal health care coverage rather than facing bad alternatives — being burdened trying to pay a large uncovered or poorly covered health care bills from limited income, bankruptcy, being sued or forgoing needed health care. 

Peter King,

Town of Linn


 

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