Center blasts hospitals’ debt collection policies



A new study from the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) attacks the Yale-New Haven Health System’s frequent use of aggressive debt collection policies. While the practices are typical of an ailing national healthcare system, union officials in New Haven have specifically criticized Yale-New Haven Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital — both members of the Yale-New Haven Health System.

The study comes from the CCNE’s Hospital Debt Justice program, a public-awareness and education campaign. The report, “Don’t Lien on Me,” specifically mentions the use of liens on uninsured or underinsured patients’ property as a means of collecting payment. When the property is eventually sold, the hospital claims the amount of the lien. In the meantime, liens result in poor credit and prevent homeowners from refinancing their homes.

Andrea Cole, president of CCNE, said these liens are hurting the local economies of both New Haven and surrounding suburban towns.

“It is not just poor people and people of color influenced by this,” Cole said. “The debt has extended into the suburban, mostly white communities — this aggressive debt collection policy is wrecking peoples’ lives and destroying the economies of small towns in Connecticut.”

These criticisms are also supported by Service Employees International Union District 1199. Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the report’s findings show that the hospital uses more liens than any other healthcare institution in Connecticut.

“It is a national issue — but I can say there is nowhere it is worse — than at Yale-New Haven Hospital,” Meyerson said. “No other institution uses creditory debt collection tactics as much as [the hospital]. Not St. Raphael’s, right here in New Haven, not Hartford hospital which would be a peer institution to Yale in terms of size.”

Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss, however, said the union’s involvement is part of a larger attack on the hospital’s reputation in order to inspire further unionization.

“Local and national unions are attempting to damage the reputation of [the hospital] because they are frustrated that they have not been able to — unionize more employees,” Krauss said in an e-mail.

She added that the issue results from national problems of healthcare, a sentiment that is echoed by both sides.

“Clearly, health care in this country is in bad shape. There are too many people uninsured in this country — but who should pay for it?” Krauss said. “We agree it is a national problem, but it needs national solutions. It is not a positive thing for unions to attack one hospital about what is really the problem of health care in the whole country.”

Krauss said over the past few months, the hospital has been reviewing its debt collection procedures, and has made some changes. The hospital has forgiven the debts of more than 800 patients, no longer uses foreclosure to collect debts and does not include court costs in patient bills, among other changes.

But Meyerson said that despite the hospital’s promises last spring to be more conservative in their use of liens, the hospital uses them as standard debt collection procedure.

“Even since the last time the hospital said they were going to restrict the use back in March, it is clearly not a last resort — it is done almost as a matter of course,” Meyerson said.

This report is part of national scrutiny of Yale-New Haven’s debt collection procedures. A lawsuit filed in Feb. by the Connecticut Attorney General is currently pending against the hospital. The lawsuit challenges the hospital’s use of free bed funds — which cover the medical costs of patients unable to pay their medical bills — and the hospital’s failure to educate patients about the availability of funds to help pay their bills.

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