A Christian hospital system that makes millions of dollars per year continues to sue its patients, who are incredibly poor, according to a new in-depth report by Wendi C. Thomas at ProPublica.
Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, a massive non-profit healthcare organization that pays virtually no local, state, or federal income tax, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. But while many non-profit hospitals forgive the debts of their patients, this one aggressively goes after anyone who owes them money, including their own employees.
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.
All of this is legal. The question is whether it’s ethical. You would hope a Christian non-profit hospital would put forgiveness above everything else, especially for patients who don’t have the means to pay. That’s what similar hospitals do:
Several nonprofit hospitals don’t sue patients at all, such as Bon Secours Hospitals in Virginia, which stopped pursuing debt suits in 2007, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which includes more than 20 facilities.
Some of Methodist Hospital’s cousins — health systems affiliated with the United Methodist Church — also don’t sue patients. That’s the case with Methodist Health System, which operates four hospitals in the Dallas area. The collection policy of the seven-hospital Houston Methodist system states: “At no time will Houston Methodist impose extraordinary collection actions such as wage garnishments,” liens on homes, or credit bureau notification.
“We are a faith-based institution and we don’t believe taking extraordinary measures to seek bill payments is consistent with our mission and values,” a Houston Methodist spokesperson said by email.
It’s nice to see that some religious institutions take their stated values seriously. Not Methodist University Hospital. They’d rather make money off the backs of patients who will suffer more as a result of getting care.
The article is full of anecdotes and details about what patients have had to go through. I would encourage you to read the full report if you can stomach it.
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