Wealthy Nonprofit Hospitals Are Seizing Poor Patients’ Wages

| by Michael Allen

Some wealthy nonprofit hospitals are going after their low-income patients' wages.

According to a new report by NPR and ProPublica, the Heartland Regional Medical Center (recently renamed Mosaic Life Care) in St. Joseph, Missouri, plays hard ball with poor people who cannot afford high bills.

When people are treated at the nonprofit Heartland Regional Medical Center and they cannot pay, their bills are turned over to Northwest Financial Services, a for-profit debt collection agency owned by Mosaic Life Care.

Northwest Financial Services reportedly sued (under its corporate name Midwestern Health Management) more than 11,000 people between 2009 through 2013. The collection agency garnished the wages of almost 6,000 people, which totaled up to $12 million, according to state records, says ProPublica and NPR.

To make matters worse, many of these patients were uninsured and eligible for some state financial aid, which would have cut their charges. Instead, they ended up paying the full, maximum price.

Many of these folks could have been covered under Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, but Missouri Republicans refused to expand Medicaid to residents, noted the Springfield News-Leader.

ProPublica and NPR also reported that hospitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Alabama also sued their poor patients and went after their wages.

For it's part, the nonprofit Heartland Regional Medical Center reported a $45 million profit in 2013, according to its annual report.

The Heartland Regional Medical Center doesn't pay income taxes or property taxes because it is a nonprofit.

"No one goes into this with the goal or the desire to ruin someone's life," Tama Wagner, the hospital's chief brand officer, told ProPublica and NPR. "But at the same time, the services were rendered, and we have to figure out how to get them paid for."

However, Wagner couldn't explain why Heartland Regional Medical Center sues more of its patients than any hospital in Missouri.

Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center, told ProPublica and NPR that nonprofit hospitals get massive tax breaks "because they are supposed to be serving the public and especially the poor."

CNBC reported in 2013 that medical bills are the top reason for bankruptcies in America.

Sources: NPR, ProPublica, CNBC, Springfield News-Leader
Image Credit: Chrkl aka Chris