According to a story from the Washington Post, the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System is often ranked as the best in the Old Dominion, but it also pursues debts and sues patients with a degree of fanaticism that appears to be unmatched by any comparable organization. Medical debt is a huge financial burden for many people who have needed emergency treatment in recent years and is responsible for the financial ruin of thousands of families across the country.
“UVA has ruined us”
Former couple Heather Waldron and John Hawley were hunted down by the health system following an emergency surgery for Waldron. The resulting lawsuit resulted in a lien on their house, which is a legal document that allows for an entity owed a debt to take possession of a property owned by the debtor until the debt is paid. The resulting financial chaos contributed to the couple’s recent divorce. They are far from alone; over a six year period concluding in June 2018, the UVA Health System sued patients over 36,000 times. These cases are valued at over $100 million and have resulted in the seizure of bank accounts, properties, and wages. Many patients were forced into complete bankruptcy.
Most health systems file lawsuits to recoup unpaid medical bills, but UVA’s merciless pursuit is far more extreme than most other hospitals. Take for example the Johns Hopkins Hospital of Baltimore. That hospital sues roughly 240 patients annually, but UVA may sue more than that number in a week. The UVA Health System also does not hesitate to place interest as high as 6 percent on unpaid bills as well as 15 percent of legal costs. These fees alone are enough to guarantee bankruptcy for many patients.
Limited Options for Assistance
UVA sues around 6,000 patients a year and that number includes around 100 patients that are also its own employees. Financial assistance rules for the UVA Health System are also very restrictive, and even $4,000 in retirement savings can be disqualifying; these rules are much more stringent than any other hospital in the state. It also offers far less financial assistance in general than other hospitals.
UVA officials have defended the practice, saying it is essential to generate “positive operating income” to support new facilities and research. The situation highlights the broader problem of unexpectedly high medical bills that are often forced on patients with little warning or explanation. Heather Waldron, for example, was charged $2,000 for a feeding tube that only cost the hospital $20.
This story highlights just how devastating the costs of the US health system can be; if your medical problem doesn’t kill you, the bills very well might.