Public hospitals can be among the most aggressive in collecting debts from poor patients, not only garnishing their wages, but cleaning out their bank accounts. “It makes me sick,” said one legal aid attorney.
by Paul Kiel
Published on Wednesday, December 24, 2014 by ProPublica
More than a century ago, Alabama enshrined a basic protection in the state's constitution shielding its poorest citizens from being forced to pay debts they couldn't afford.
But a public hospital in the mostly rural southeast corner of the state has found a way around the law. Before patients can receive treatment at Southeast Alabama Medical Center, they must sign a form waiving that legal protection, clearing the way for the facility to seize funds from their pay or bank accounts to cover medical debts.
ProPublica and NPR reported last week that nonprofit hospitals, which are legally required to offer discounted care to the poor, often sue low-income patients and garnish hefty portions of their pay.
But ProPublica found similar tactics are wielded by public facilities that often serve as hospitals of last resort.