Nonprofit hospitals added almost $40 billion to their bottom lines in the last year and lavished a $3.5 million average salary on their chiefs. But their relentless grubbing for cash apparently was unsated still. The institutions, exempted from federal, state and local taxes in exchange for “community benefits” like charity care and financial support for patients in need, are acting like Dickensian debt collectors, harassing patients with lawsuits and wage garnishments.
Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative web site, partnered with MLK50, a local news organization, to describe the avalanche of financial travail with which Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has inundated its poor and middle-class patients in Memphis, Tenn. The hospital, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has filed more than 8,300 lawsuits pursing “aggressive collection practices [that] stand out in a city where nearly 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line.” As the journalists reported of Le Bonheur:
“Its handling of poor patients begins with a financial assistance policy that, unlike many of its peers around the country, all but ignores patients with any form of health insurance, no matter their out-of-pocket costs. If they are unable to afford their bills, patients then face what experts say is rare: A licensed collection agency owned by the hospital. Lawsuits follow. Finally, after the hospital wins a judgment, it repeatedly tries to garnish patients’ wages, which it does in a far higher share of cases than other nonprofit hospitals in Memphis. Its own employees are no exception. Since 2014, Methodist has sued dozens of its workers for unpaid medical bills, including a hospital housekeeper sued in 2017 for more than $23,000. That year, she told the court, she made $16,000. She’s in a court-ordered payment plan, but in the case of more than 70 other employees, Methodist has garnished the wages it pays them to recoup its medical charges.”