Thanks to state law, the Affordable Care Act and a 2012 series by The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer, nonprofit hospitals have become less aggressive in pursuing those who can’t afford to pay their bills.
That’s a break not just for patients, but also for the hospitals themselves. Lawsuits, or pursuit by collection agencies to the point of ruining people’s credit, are a business that hospitals don’t need to be in and that most really don’t want to be in.
It runs counter to the obligation of the medical profession to heal without regard to ability to pay, something that’s also fundamental to the mission of nonprofits.
As was noted in the 2012 series – which helped lead to a state law in 2013 that curbed some of the most aggressive bill-collecting – most North Carolina hospitals are tax-exempt, which saves them millions of dollars a year. In return, hospitals are expected to provide care to those who cannot pay.
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It’s true, of course, that some people who can afford to pay just don’t, and hospitals should have recourse to pursue them. But going after people to the point of ruining them financially when they can’t pay the bills because they have inadequate or no insurance is wrong.
It is good to see that lawsuits by the state’s hospitals dropped by more than 43 percent from 2010 to 2014. Some hospitals have dropped the lawsuit business altogether. Others have cut it more dramatically than 43 percent.
The Affordable Care Act, which has made it possible for many who were uninsured to get insurance, should reduce the need for lawsuits even more. A lack of insurance is a major reason people can’t pay their medical bills, which come to them in retail form rather than reflecting the discounts insurance companies negotiate.