Non-Profit Hospital Kicks Poor While Down, Sues Them And Garnishes Their Wages


The Ayn Rand paradise in which Paul Ryan and company dream (the ones who lived off social security in order to deny it to others), where corporations get coddled and the poor and old get thrown under the bus, is becoming more and more a nightmarish reality. Wear a suit for living on Wall Street, and you can get your own personal Congress to do your bidding. Do anything else, and pull yourself up by the bootstraps since that’ all you’ll be able to afford anyway.   Take one non-profit hospital in Missouri, for example.

Heartland Hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri pays no income taxes and no property taxes on the vast acres of land it owns. See, when you have four walls and a roof and yet don’t pay taxes, Uncle Sam (not Uncle Koch) expects you to have a compelling reason as to why you don’t. In exchange for these very generous tax breaks, the IRS expects that the organization to bring some sort of value to the community. In other words,  if you’re a freaking non-profit hospital, it would be good if you actually helped the freaking poor.

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Enter Heartland Regional Medical Center

It seems that when patients receive care at Heartland Regional Medical Center in Missouri and are unable pay, their bills often go into Northwest Financial Services.  Then, if those patients don’t meet Northwest’s demands, their debts go straight to the Buchanan County Courthouse.

Via Propublica.org:

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. Many were uninsured Heartland patients who were eligible for financial aid that would have eliminated or drastically cut their bills. Instead, they were charged full price for their care, without the deep discounts negotiated by insurers, according to court records, interviews and data provided by Heartland. No other Missouri hospital sued more of its patients. Blue collar workers, Walmart cashiers, nursing home aides, clerical staffers—these types of patients have long been the most vulnerable to unexpected debt. They can’t afford insurance, yet they’re not poor enough for Medicaid. 

And for those of thinking that these low-income people can just go on Medicaid, Missouri is one of those dumbass states that refused to accept the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, in order to hold onto bitching over nothing rights. Consumer advocates say the laws governing wage garnishment are obsolete and excessively punitive, regardless of the debt’s source. Even though no one keeps tabs on the number of hospitals that sue their patients and how frequently, both ProPublica and NPR found that hospitals in  Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, and as well as Missouri do it quite frequently. It should be noted that all of these states are deeply red, have a high amount of low-income residents, and are the leading recipients of the government aid that which they hypocritically denounce because a black guy is offering it to them.  In Missouri, for example,  hospitals and debt collection firms working for them filed more than 15,000 suits in 2013.

Could the non-profit hospital be acting extra dickish due to financial issues of its own? Nope!

Heartland isn’t going after the poor because it’s hard up for cash.  Despite being based in an economically depressed county of just 90,000, propublica.org found that Heartland reported a “$45 million profit last year and paid its chief executive $1.2 million,” according to its annual report. That CEO must have a really nice suit.  Naturally, the hospital declined to discuss Northwest’s finances until it invents a great equivocation. Did I mention that it pays NO taxes at all, too? One attorney feels that tax status should change.

Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said Heartland’s tactics are in direct contradiction to its mission:

“Nonprofit hospitals are given tax-exempt status because they are supposed to be serving the public and especially the poor,” she said. “If hospitals are charging low-income, uninsured patients “even more and then garnishing their wages on the basis of these inflated amounts,” there ought to be consequences, she said. “They should lose their tax-exempt status.” (Propublica.org)

Via Propublica.org:

Northwest first sued Keith and Katie Herie when they couldn’t afford the $14,000 bill for Katie’s emergency appendectomy. While Northwest was seizing Keith Heries’ pay for that suit, it sued him again over another hospital visit. Since 2006, the Heries have paid almost $20,000 and still owe at least $26,000, with interest mounting.

ProPublica and NPR shared Herie’s case and other findings with Heartland’s board of trustees, which is now reviewing the hospital’s debt collection practices.

Herie, who paid most of his debts off and has every intention of doing so, but finds it disgusting that the hospital is preventing him from doing so by going after his wages.

“Make it so people can make a dent in it,” said Herie, 51, a drill operator. “There’s a lot of people who want to be able to pay their medical bills…But they’re not going to jeopardize their household for it.” (Propublica.org)

This is just yet another instance of exploiting the poor and making legal attempts to annihilate them since blasting them into outer space is still frowned upon.

 

H/T: Propublica.orgFeatured Image courtesy of Vice

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