Elsewhere online
December 23, 2014

Nonprofit Hospitals Seize Patients' Wages to Collect Bills

As part of a series of joint investigative reports on aggressive debt-collection practices, ProPublica and NPR examine how some nonprofit hospitals are filing lawsuits and garnishing wages to obtain payments from often uninsured and lower-income patients.

While many tax-exempt medical centers rarely or never seize wages, the news organizations found the practice to be widespread in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, and Missouri. In the latter state, nonprofit hospitals and collection agencies working for them filed more than 15,000 suits last year.

Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Mo.—recently renamed Mosaic Life Care—garnished wages from some 6,000 patients from 2009 through 2013, seizing 10 percent to 25 percent of their pay and in some cases leaving them with years-long debts compounded by 9 percent interest. "No one goes into this with the goal or the desire to ruin someone's life," said Tama Wagner, the hospital's chief brand officer. "But at the same time, the services were rendered, and we have to figure out how to get them paid for."