Sued Over An $1,800 Hospital Bill

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Even before the hospital bills started coming, Lori Duff and her family were living paycheck to paycheck. So when the debt collector called and demanded $1,800 for the prenatal visits she’d had while pregnant with her third son, she panicked.

The collector said the local Catholic hospital Duff had gone to could garnish 25 percent of each of her paychecks to pay off the bill. She offered to make a $20 payment—all she could afford at the time—but the collector told her the minimum was $400 down. “I was like, ‘I don’t have that. You can have everything in my account right now. It’s $1.25,’” Duff recalls.

Duff was likely eligible for free care under the Mount Carmel Health System’s financial assistance policy, which offers medical care at no charge for patients earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. But the debt collector kept calling and soon informed her that the hospital was planning to sue her for the money.

The federal health law passed in 2010 attempts to address that by mandating how a nonprofit hospital must report charity care and serve poor patients. The new rules have already gone into effect but are not being actively enforced, and not all hospitals are complying with the new rules.

“I think for a nonprofit hospital, whose job it is to provide this community care, that it’s obscene that they’re going after folks who are at 100 percent of the poverty level who are working to try to support their children,” McGarvey charges.

It’s even worse that Catholic hospitals are involved.

I didn’t really understand this article. At $25,000 a year (if that is all they make) and pregnant she qualified for medicaid, which back pays for 3 months I believe. If she really couldn’t pay the bill at the hospital, they would have probably brought her the paper work to get her signed up so they could get paid by medicaid. But you do actually have to apply, you just can’t assume that medicaid will pick up the tab. You have to fill out the paper work and go to the interview.

Second, don’t deal with the debt collectors unless you absolutely have to, go directly to the entity to whom you owe, namely the hospital. Often they will take off any late fees if you deal with them directly. If the debt collector told her they could take her house, then she could sue him and the company he works for. As that is illegal (per the article) in Ohio.

Lastly and most importantly, if they sue you always go to the hearing so you don’t get a default judgement. This is very important, if you dispute the debt, they will often drop the case because they often don’t have the paper work to actually prove that you owe it. (Especially if it is the debt collection agency that is suing you).

There are many ways this could have been taken care of, before it ever got to this point. I guess if the hospital never sent a bill at all before sending it to collections, well then that is a problem, but then all the easier to fight when they demand payment.

Sounds like an issue with bureaucracy. Not heartlessness.

They need the money to pay off scandalous lawsuits.

I think you are absolutely correct. I work at a Catholic Hospital and if people respond to the initial bill or contact from the hospital, likely something could have been worked out or the bill written off. We write off many thousands every year in our practice because we agree if the hospital gives that charity to the patient, we will too. But the patient has to respond or the problems escalate.

Unfortunately when people are having financial trouble they often ignore the first bills. Hospitals are very automated with regard to the billing process. They will send out so many bills, probably a letter or two and as a last resort call in a collection agency. Also unfortunately when it’s turned over it becomes very hard for the hospital to take back the account and control it.

I suspect this family was so traumatized by all their bills they didn’t contact the hospital right away or even before the baby was born to make arrangements. Believe me these hospitals will work with people.


Our country has certainly lost it’s moral compass. People are outraged at thousands who lose their lives in war, yet seem to easily accept that MILLIONS of babies are killed through abortions.

At the end of the day, each person must continue to pray for God’s enlightment and vote their conscience.

We must also continue to pray for our elected officials. Most in both parties seem only to care about their own re-election, position and power versus what is best for the people and the country God has blessed us with.

I fail to see how your post relates in any way to the OP. The woman went in for prenatal care - i.e., she’s was having a baby not trying to kill one. :confused:

However, I’m curious to know what you think is best for the people of our country? I agree that we really must pray or out elected officials, because the way I see it, the current two party system only gives us the following two options:
*]Republican position - Allow babies to die due to a lack of prenatal care as long as the government doesn’t force people to pay for the cost of a pregnant woman’s check-ups.
*]Democratic position - Allow babies to die due to a lack of government enforcement of anti-abortion laws.

Statement one is patently false! I really object to this characteristic and think it has absolutely no basis in fact. Do tell me of babies dying because Republicans prohibited prenatal care. I’d be interested in specifics rather than vague generalizations.

Aside from that since the Democrats had the House, the Senate, and the White House for a couple of years, if this were true why was nothing done?

With respect to the Democrat platform and the very militant pro-abortion stance of this President and Speaker Pelosi, Sen Boxer etc clearly unborn babies’ lives continue to be at great risk.


Your hospital and maybe most hospitals work that way, but unfortunately not all hospitals do. It’s a big problem, lots of hospitals --even non-profit ones getting tax money – are suing poor people, putting liens on their houses, garnishing their wages, sometimes before the patients even know what’s going on. Do a web search on it, it’s getting really bad in some places.

What you state is illegal so please provide actual examples of those having liens put on their homes “before they know what is going on.” Even non Catholic hospitals must follow the laws regarding debt collection. I imagine there are cases where aggressive debt collectors have circumvented the rules but don’t infer hospitals are directly engaged in this kind of practice as SOP. They would soon lose their authorization to treat patients.

As to “non profit hospitals receiving tax dollars” I think your statement is quite misleading. Hospitals are not funded by direct tax dollars as is the HHS for example. Hospitals do serve patients who have government funded insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid, VA etc. So indirectly tax dollars flow to hospitals to pay for treatment. But you infer that Uncle Sam through his great largesse is sending out money to hospitals for no apparent reason. Further a hospital that accepts such payments is far more restricted in their practices, collection efforts (whether you can pursue the patient for unpaid charges) than practices that do not accept government funded insurance programs.

There are for profit hospitals and I can’t speak to their practices but Catholic hospitals must follow the Directives issued by the USCCB.


Jones thought the hospital was taking care of the cost. But soon after her two-week stay, she received a bill for $34,000.

In 2006, the hospital sued her and put a lien on her small west Charlotte home. A widow, Jones would like to leave the house to her disabled daughter some day. But the lien – which will allow the hospital to collect money if Jones dies or sells her home – may make that impossible.

Sorry – not receiving tax monies directly, but tax exemptions equalling millions of dollars:

Like CMC-Mercy, most N.C. hospitals are tax-exempt – a distinction that saves them millions each year. In exchange, these nonprofits are expected to provide financial help to those without the means to pay.

Read more here:

Do a news search on suing-patients-non-profit-tax and you will get an idea on the extent of the problem

Look, I pointed out that this does happen but as I also pointed out, it’s not a matter of the patient being blindsided. Hospitals will and MUST work with indigent patients. OTOH if the patient simply ignores the bill how can the hospital respond other than to try to collect the bill.

You quoted something supporting your apparent contention that hospitals are suing indigent patients with no reason but the article didn’t state how much time passed before the hospital or its agency took action. Here is another quote that might support my position:

***System officials say they file suit only when people fail to answer repeated requests for payment.

That, they say, is what happened in Jones’ case. The hospital said it sent her five statements and left three messages at her home before filing suit.***

I work in this field and have for 30 years. I know what happens and it’s hard to see the people who slip through the cracks like this woman. She claims she “didn’t remember getting the bills” and it may be true but after eight attempts to contact her there was little choice but to escalate the effort. Hospitals treat thousands and thousands of patients every year. They don’t have the funds to have an individual caseworker assigned to each patient. OTOH when patients check in they are given this information and told to contact the business office to make arrangements for payments or to obtain forms for a charity write off.

One thing you should also know is that we cannot simply give a write off willy nilly. There is a federal law that if you accept Medicare and other government insurance you MUST apply the same standards to everyone. IOW there used to be something called “professional courtesy” so if a Doc had a friend who needed surgery he might ask the surgeon to write off some part of the bill as a favor. This is ILLEGAL and believe me the consequences of such actions are extreme. We are talking gargantuan fines and even jail. This also applies to situations like the woman in the article. Had the hospital simply written off her account because she didn’t respond, they would have been in violation of the same law. We have to apply the same standards to all patients. Period.

The moral of the story should not be that hospitals are evil and want to beat money out of widows and orphans but that patients need to be advocates for themselves and to respond to collection efforts or better yet make arrangements in advance. Believe me we do a lot of those “Another one for Jesus” patients every day.


How many babies die to due lack of govt. funded prenatal care? One is too many but do you have any statistics? On the other hand, a million a year get aborted. Which do you think is the more urgent to deal with?


No one said that “hospitals are evil” but they are definitely doing something wrong. If you read the articles, this is happening all over, and it’s not just a case of the hospitals refusing to “write off” debts, or people who don’t/can’t respond to notices, it’s often extreme collection practices and suits being taken out against people who simply cannot pay, and are in this position through no fault of their own (they didn’t choose to get injured or sick). You said that no liens were being taken against patient’s houses, which isn’t true. I don’t understand the point of minimizing this issue.

Once again you’ve misquoted me. I said liens aren’t taken against homes “before the people know what’s going on.” Please have the courtesy not to distort what I said. As I also pointed out there are very strict rules for debt collection and no that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some renegades out there but to claim that the first time a patient heard about the lien was the day the Sheriff put the notice up on their front door is utterly ridiculous. As this same article noted, the hospital made EIGHT ATTEMPTS to contact the patient. They are required by law to attempt to collect unpaid medical bills. This is the law Jerry Miah even if it doesn’t play into your ideology. All patients must be treated the same. We cannot decide to send a collection agency after Patient A and then ignore Patient B’s bill. it’s illegal.

You obviously think this is a huge problem whereas I think it’s a matter of an occasional outlier. And these hospitals or individuals should be pursued and prevented from such abusive techniques which are illegal. But to suggest that hospitals as a matter of practice are trying to run indigent patients to ground is nothing more than a scare story. It’s the same attitude that ginned up the Alar scare or the Bird Flu scare or even the inordinate amount of press given to the abuse scandal. If it bleeds it leads. You point to the hospitals being in it for the money…what about the press that stirs up these false crises to sell papers or air time?

What’s REALLY wrong with this article and in fact your whole tack on this thread is that it NEVER seems to make the news that Catholic and other non-profit hospitals give away millions and millions of dollars of charity care every single year. People who cannot pay are NOT turned away. So tell me when was the last time you saw a headline “Hospital Gives Away $30,000,000 in charity care”? I’m waiting…


My son was in the Catholic hospital for over a week and the bill was over $30,000. After insurance there was about $8,000 in left over bills. He worked there, granted, but they wrote that $8,000 off. We ended up paying 150 dollars plus half the bill to the public hospital for an emergency room visit that cost $1,500 to see an NP who sent him home.

The story presented is contrived, and edited, to demonize the hospital. There are pieces missing from it. There are always ways around things, and people just want a free ride.

BTW, why doesn’t anyone EVER question why the bills are so high? I want to know that one. No one questions why the prices are so hyperinflated and seem clueless to the fact that it’s all a big raquet, just like the education system. I say this, and I work in the system.

People just run to Washington to take care of all their problems. People don’t even know their being manipulated by the very same. They know you are either a) not very bright, b) too stressed, c) don’t care, or d) too lazy to look into the problem like mature adults.

I need to go, I’m getting chest pains again.

May I offer a solution?

Move to Texas or another state where you are protected form such bad behavior. The creditor may have been operating under the law, which spells harassment and thus could end up in a million dollar law suit against the collection agency. It happens.

How are hospitals supposed to know who is poor and who is not? Is it’s the hospital’s responsibility to question their financial position before giving them care? Would you really want them to give you care based on your perceived ability to pay? Plus, hospitals would be out of business if they didn’t collect some of the money they are owed.

I’ve met more than one person who had the money to cover their hospital bill but thought they were entitled to the care and shouldn’t have to spend their (hard earned, inherited, ect) money on an illness they had no control over. :rolleyes: Should these people be allowed a pass because there are poor people out there that can’t afford their bills? How does a hospital distinguish between the two?

$1,800 doesn’t seem high for a prenatal visit depending on the prenatal visit. When I was pregnant with my first I did not have insurance and signed up for medicaid , but was sent to the doctor before it had officially kicked in, so I received the . (In fact there was a problem with the application and nobody told me there was a problem). So I had my first appointment relatively late and they did all the labs that pregnant women get. It is like 20+ labs from 4-6 vials of blood drawn, and an ultrasound. The lab bill alone was $1,200, and they itemized the bill and showed the price of each lab. The dating ultrasound was another $800. :shrug: I could easily see how she racked up that bill on a prenatal visit, depending on services received.

This is a lie, the spreading of which does no one any good.

There are two sides to this story, I suspect. I notice that Mrs. Duff never said she was turned down for assistance. According to the reporter and the hospital, she was eligible for assistance. So did she even apply? I mean, isn’t there any responsibility for even applying for assistance any more or have we raised a generation with such a sense of entitlement that they think such help should be automatic.

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