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.