The Bulletin

Study: VCU and UVA hospitals led nation in suing patients before ending practice last year

By: - June 21, 2021 12:01 am

Annie Washington, one of the thousands of VCU Health patients facing lawsuits for unpaid bills in 2018, waits outside the hospital after a medical appointment. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Hospitals operated by Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia filed more lawsuits against patients over unpaid bills than any other large medical groups in the country, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University and Axios released this week.

Both health systems ended the practice last year amid growing scrutiny of their debt-collection efforts against low-income and uninsured patients.

The new review, which studied debt-collection efforts of the country’s largest 100 hospitals, shows for the first time the extent to which the two institutions stood out nationally for their billing practices, which executives initially described as standard operating procedure.

Researchers found that between January 2018 and July 2020, VCU initiated court action against patients 17,806 times — more than any other institution reviewed. UVA’s medical center came in second, initiating legal action 7,107 times.

VCU and UVA both announced in 2020 they would stop suing patients over unpaid medical bills and both institutions later said they would cancel a backlog of judgements and liens against patients that date back to the 1990s.

The action followed a 2019 investigation by Kaiser Health News and published in the Washington Post that focused on the two institutions. The Virginia Mercury first reported on the volume of medical debt lawsuits filed by Virginia hospitals in 2018.

Johns Hopkins University’s research found that the volume of medical debt lawsuits dropped nationwide after the practice began drawing public scrutiny.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.