Better Solutions for Healthcare

Houston Chronicle: Texas hospitals that received bailouts are suing poor patients for failing to pay medical bills

By Jenny Deam and John Tedesco
May 27, 2020

Back in 2017, Cheryl Billings was having a run of bad health, so her trips to Cedar Park Regional Medical Center near Austin have since blurred together. That’s why when she was later served with court papers saying the 108-bed Williamson County hospital was suing her, she had no idea why.

The 64-year-old is disabled and lives on about $700 monthly in Supplemental Security Income and other federal assistance. The $5,255 she was told she owed for a hospitalization seemed almost laughable. Almost.

“There’s no way I can pay,” she said she told the hospital’s lawyer when she went to court Feb. 27. Billings noticed he seemed to have a tall stack of cases against other patients that day. She said the lawyer replied: “Not my problem.”

Across Texas a growing number of poor, unemployed or unsuspecting patients are being sued for uncollected medical debt in a trend that some see as predatory. The hospitals suing are typically for-profit facilities, often operating in rural or small towns. Between January 2018 and February 2020, more than 1,000 lawsuits were filed by 28 hospitals in 62 Texas counties, according to a sweeping new analysis of hospital financial records and court data by national health care experts. Those lawsuits sought a total of about $17.8 million from their patients, researchers found…