How Wealthy Hospitals Profit From Car Crash Patients

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As part of its registration process, a Catholic hospital in Oklahoma is offering some accident victims a sign waiver stating that they do not want their health plan billed for the care. A patient received the waiver shortly after a car accident in which her head hit the windshield. She said she did not remember signing the document, but was faced with a lien of $ 34,106.

“The way they run it, you don’t want to use your health insurance because someone else caused it,” said Loren Toombs, an Oklahoma trial attorney who represented the patient. “It’s clearly a business tactic and a huge problem, but it’s not always illegal.”

Hospitals have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for more and more turn to the courts recover unpaid patient bills, even between of the coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals, many of which have received large bailouts last year, used these court rulings to seize patients’ salaries and take their homes.

But less attention has been paid to hospital privilege laws, which many states passed at the turn of the 20th century when less than 10% of Americans had health coverage. The laws were intended to shield hospitals from the burden of caring for uninsured patients and to encourage them to treat those who could not pay upfront.

A century later, hospital liens are most often used to sue the debts of victims of car accidents. The practice can be so lucrative, according to documents and interviews, that some hospitals use outside debt collection companies to search police records for recent accidents to make sure they identify which of their patients might have been in a wreck, so they could sue them with privileges.

Some laws limit the portion of patient payments a hospital can claim, and others only allow nonprofit hospitals to collect their debts in this way. Some states require hospitals to bill accident victims’ health plans rather than using a lien. This approach is considered more user-friendly as patients benefit from the discounts that health plans negotiated on their behalf.

“If there is a patient who has viable coverage from multiple sources, it would be reasonable to ask for payment from the one who is going to pay more,” said Joe Fifer, managing director of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, a commercial group of ‘hospitals. financial officers.

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