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Low-income patients in desperate need of debt relief

Seeking medical care treatment can be frightening not just because of the potential for further illness or injury, but because of the high cost of care. Federal law requires nonprofit hospitals in Florida to provide indigent care, which provides reduced or even free medical care for patients who otherwise cannot afford treatment. However, some patients who are told they qualify for indigent care soon find out that they still owe exorbitant fees, which leads some to seek debt relief through bankruptcy. 

A hospital in a neighboring state seems to be causing significant problems for its low-income patients. Over the past 12 years, the hospital has filed around 612 lawsuits, seeking repayment from patients who are struggling to afford their bills. The majority of those suits were filed in 2013 and onward, as the hospital only made 30 claims between 2006 and 2012. The suits have attempted to seize upwards of $1.3 million from those patients' wages. 

The hospital cites higher expenses and low reimbursement for the number of claims it has filed, even though the majority of those were filed against patients who qualified for indigent care. However, its behavior is out of sync with nearby facilities. A second hospital in a neighboring county only pursued 50 wage garnishment lawsuits from 2006 to 2014, and does not appear to have filed any since then. 

Patients are rarely informed of the cost of care while they are in the hospital, and are only met with the bill upon discharge. These unexpected expenses often leave patients with expensive bills that they otherwise have no way of paying. For many in Florida, bankruptcy provides a safe path towards debt relief, which can help reestablish a sense of financial security. 

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Paul Urich
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