February 9, 2021
The wealthiest hospitals have used predatory billing practices to make money off of low-income car accident victims.
If you were injured in a car accident, you should always go through your health insurance before relying on medical payments coverage or the at-fault driver’s insurance. That way you won’t have to worry about accruing medical debt while you wait for your case to settle.
But here is the issue: hospitals might not give car accident victims the option of using their personal insurance. Instead, wealthy hospitals use ancient state laws to pursue liens against the eventual settlement, throwing unsuspecting and poor victims into debt.
By Pursuing Liens, Hospitals Cheat Patients
The Parkview Hospital system in Fort Wayne is one of the largest nonprofit healthcare groups in the area, and the most expensive for patients. It is also notorious for pursuing liens at the detriment of their poorest patients.
The difference in bills can be astronomical. The New York Times found that one Parkview patient’s medical costs went from $2,500 with Medicaid to a $12,856 bill when the hospital pursued a lien.
Hospitals are required to offer deep discounts to insurance companies, and they make even less money from Medicare and Medicaid. But by pursuing liens, hospitals can make two, three, even five times as much as they would make by going through insurance. Liens are the most lucrative on low-income patients with Medicaid.
Quick note on liens: A lien is a legal claim on someone’s assets. Your insurance company may cover your healthcare and auto repairs now, but they expect reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurance. They put a lien on your settlement to ensure they get their money back. If you owe child support, the government may also put a lien on your settlement. Liens aren’t inherently a bad thing: for instance, if your health insurance doesn’t cover physical therapy, a therapist may agree to treat you on lien. But keep in mind that liens drastically reduce the amount of money that will go into your pocket.
The New York Times found the hospitals most guilty of pursuing liens against patients are also the wealthiest. These massive healthcare groups have received millions of dollars in bailouts during the pandemic, but continue to sue their patients over unpaid debt.
Personal injury settlements can drag on for months, even years. Meanwhile the victim is struggling to return to normal life while a massive bill hangs over their heads, all because the hospital refused to bill their existing health insurance. Their credit score may suffer. They may be hounded by debt collectors. And once a settlement has been reached, money that rightfully belongs to the victim may end up in the hospital’s pockets.
On Medicaid? These Hospitals Don’t Care
Decades ago, it was rare for a patient to have health insurance. Lien laws kept hospitals from going bankrupt.
But times have changed. According to the 2019 census, 92 percent of Americans have health insurance coverage. Hospitals are no longer at risk of closure because patients can’t afford to pay.
In Indiana, hospitals must bill the patient’s private health insurance or Medicare before pursuing a lien. Medicaid counts as health insurance, though the law doesn’t mention it by name. It is a loophole hospitals are quick to exploit.
The Parkview Hospital system is fond of arguing that Medicaid is “government assistance,” not insurance, when justifying their aggressive pursuit of liens. A judge ultimately rejected this argument, finding that before filing a lien, Parkview must subtract what the patient is entitled to under health insurance.
What if my Hospital Won’t Charge my Health Insurance?
Indiana hospitals should not put a lien for medical bills on your car accident settlement instead of billing your health insurance. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
At Hensley Legal Group, we’ve seen this happen all too frequently. Hospitals often “forget” to bill our clients’ insurance, despite constant reminders from us and from our clients. We’ve seen clients without health insurance denied discounts and write offs they qualify for because of income, and still charged the full cost of treatment.
These are just some examples we’ve seen of hospitals taking advantage of car accident victims. But the New York Times uncovered more:
Predatory hospitals might search police records for recent car accidents, or might conveniently misplace the patient’s insurance information. They may ask the patient to sign a waiver stating they do not want their health insurance billed for their care, even if they are too injured to realize what they’re signing.
Big hospitals can afford to waste your time with contradictory conversations and long phone calls with their billing departments. They may even try to take you to court for unpaid bills. As a recovering car accident victim, you don’t have the time or the physical energy to deal with that.
Help from a Local Personal Injury Attorney
If you were in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, then you shouldn’t have to pay a single cent. You deserve a fair settlement that covers all your losses. If a predatory hospital places a lien on your settlement instead of billing your health insurance, the best thing you can do for your case is look into hiring a personal injury attorney.
Personal injury attorneys deal with billing every day. They know your state’s laws on debt collecting and liens, and have extensive practice negotiating liens with uncooperative healthcare providers. And if your case goes to court, your personal injury attorney will fight as hard as they can to see justice is done.
Hensley Legal Group has offices in Indianapolis, Evansville, Lafayette, Merrillville, Muncie, and Fishers, and serves injured Hoosiers throughout the state. Our goal is to leave every client in a better place than when they first came to us. Please give us a call or contact us online for a free conversation about your personal injury claim.