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New York hospitals pursue 1,600 patients in medical debt lawsuits totaling $9M

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Despite efforts to curb the practice, a consortium of 17 New York hospitals and health systems have collectively filed lawsuits against approximately 1,600 patients since early 2022 to collect medical debts totaling about $9 million, according to an investigation by the USA TODAY Network. The majority of these hospitals that persisted with debt-collection lawsuits primarily serve low-income or rural communities in upstate New York. An average debt of $5,700 was noted in these lawsuits, potentially causing financial devastation for patients whilst offering limited returns for large health systems.

Many hospitals have recently discontinued debt-collection lawsuits, a change spurred by the pandemic and the corresponding advocacy and legislative efforts to limit medical-debt collections. New York state measures implemented since 2022 have aimed to mitigate the damage of debt on patients, including legislation that banned the use of home liens and wage garnishments in medical-debt collections and prevented medical debt from appearing on consumer credit reports.

Despite this, several health systems, including Albany Medical Center and Mohawk Valley Health System, persist in suing patients to recover debts, as uncovered by USA TODAY Network’s review. When contacted, a few hospitals disputed the claims or cited their charity care provisions. Others mentioned they are in the process of phasing out medical debt lawsuits. Notably, Rochester Regional Health confirmed it ceased legal action on hospital debt at the onset of COVID-19 and maintained the policy thereafter.