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Runaway medical bills haunt many Virginians

It is common knowledge that many people face insurmountable hospital and medical bills. Even with the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid, health insurance policies often include high deductibles and restrictive networks. Some families still cannot afford insurance and others face unexpected emergencies.

Readers may have seen Kaiser Health News’ recent investigative journalism into the collection practices of the University of Virginia Health System, referred to as UVA. KHN found that the health care provider has sued “thousands of patients” and engages regularly in collection activities like garnishing wages, seizing state tax refunds and placing liens on homes and other properties.

The hospital also charges for legal costs and interest, which can more than double the original bill. KHN found that UVA has the most restrictive financial assistance program in the state, despite its U.S. News & World Report ranking of being the number one hospital in Virginia. For example, a few thousand dollars in a retirement account might be enough to disqualify a patient from their charitable assistance program.

By the numbers, UVA, which is a public institution, brought about 36,000 suits in six years in pursuit of more than $106 million in medical bills. KHN reports that while many hospitals engage in collection activity, UVA is particularly aggressive, potentially crippling both middle-class and lower-class medical consumers financially.

Virginians should explore all legal options when facing this kind of situation. Has the medical creditor violated any consumer protection laws? Has there been harassing, threatening or abusive behavior toward the consumer? Are there any errors in the billing? Can a negotiated settlement of the debt be arranged? Are legally required steps taken, including proper notices, in pursuit of garnishment, lien placement, lien enforcement or foreclosure? Were proper procedures followed in court and is there a legal defense to the claims? Should bankruptcy be considered?

Finally, keep good records of each interaction with the medical creditor in case you later decide to take legal action.