One Missouri hospital has sued thousands of uninsured patients who couldn’t pay for their care, then grabbed a hefty portion of their paychecks to cover the bills. “We will be paying them off until we die,” one debtor said.
by Paul Kiel, ProPublica, and Chris Arnold, NPR, Dec. 19, 2014, 5 a.m.
On the eastern edge of St. Joseph, Missouri, lies the small city's only hospital, a landmark of brick and glass. Music from a player piano greets visitors at the main entrance, and inside, the bright hallways seem endless. Long known as Heartland Regional Medical Center, the nonprofit hospital and its system of clinics recently rebranded. Now they're called Mosaic Life Care, because, their promotional materials say: "We offer much more than health care. We offer life care."
Two miles away, at the rear of a low-slung building is a key piece of Mosaic—Heartland's very own for-profit debt collection agency.
When patients receive care at Heartland and don't or can't pay, their bills often end up here at Northwest Financial Services. And if those patients don't meet Northwest's demands, their debts can make another, final stop: the Buchanan County Courthouse.
From 2009 through 2013, Northwest filed more than 11,000 lawsuits. When it secured a judgment, as it typically did, Northwest was entitled to seize a hefty portion of a debtor's paycheck. During those years, the company garnished the pay of about 6,000 people and seized at least $12 million—an average of about $2,000 each, according to a ProPublica analysis of state court data.