Hospitals sue patients for unpaid bills, but the return on investment is low, grantee podcast finds

Hospitals often sue patients over unpaid medical bills in bulk, sometimes by the hundreds of thousands, even when people already face financial hardship or bankruptcy. Judgments against patients in these suits can derail someone’s life but, according to experts, they don’t bring hospitals much money. So why are hospitals motivated to go after their former patients? With support from the Fund, Dan Weissmann investigated this practice in collaboration with the Baltimore Banner and Scripps News for a podcast for KFF Health News. The two-year investigation found that, in Maryland, five attorneys filed almost two-thirds of these cases. The investigation included analyzing records of more than 40,000 cases. Often, the lawyers weren’t part of hospital decision-making; instead, they were freelancers working for collection agencies. But the reporting also led to a more upbeat conclusion, finding dramatic reductions in lawsuits in Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin — and the introduction of new laws and regulations in states like Illinois, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon that appear to be leading to declines in those states, too.