NC hospitals pull back on patient lawsuits

For years North Carolina hospitals would sue patients if they couldn't pay their bills, sometimes even for nominal amounts. But it appears that acute care institutions in the Tar Heel State are rethinking that strategy.

The number of lawsuits the state's hospitals have filed against patients have dropped dramatically, according to a joint report by The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer. The volume of lawsuits has decreased about 45 percent between 2010 and 2014, from 6,000 to around 3,200.

Carolinas Healthcare, among the most aggressive of hospital systems when it came to suing its patients, cut its number of lawsuits in half, to about 1,400 filed last year. In 2012, the system had sued more than 12,000 patients over a five-year period, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Nevertheless, the Charlotte Observer reported in a separate article that the hospital system has filed more than 2,700 lawsuits against patients since 2013, and that at least several of the patients interviewed should have qualified for charity care from the healthcare system.

However, North Carolina hospitals are not alone in such practices. Mosaic of Life Care in Indiana formed a for-profit subsidiary to collect sums against the hospital's patients and sue them if they could or would not pay.

The reason for the reduction in North Carolina lawsuits is due to media attention on the issue as well as a 2013 law curbing some collection processes. The law also prohibits hospitals from engaging in collections while an application for charity care is pending.

Along with the lawsuits, the newpspapers reported that the number of complaints filed against providers with the state attorney general about hospital collection processes have also dropped.

To learn more:
- read the Observer and News & Observer article 
- check out the second Charlotte Observer article