BIG PHARMA POLITICS: Consumers pressure politicians to do something about rising drug prices. Read More
When Doris Hutchinson sold her late mother’s house, she planned to use the money to pay her grandchildren’s college tuition.
Her plans changed when the University of Virginia Health System took $38,000 of the proceeds to pay for a 13-year-old medical bill owed by her deceased brother that had turned into a lien on the property.
“It was a mess,” Hutchinson told Kaiser Health News. “There are bills I could pay with that money. I could pay off my car, for one thing.”
Kaiser Health News is investigating hospital billing and collections in Virginia to show how widespread and destructive these hidden liens can be. A year ago, it reported that UVA Health had sued patients 36,000 times over six years for more than $100 million, often for amounts far higher than what an insurer would have paid. In response to this reporting, the system temporarily suspended patient lawsuits and wage garnishments, increased discounts for the uninsured and broadened financial assistance, including for cases dating back to 2017.
Yet even as it suspended patient lawsuits, UVA Health continued to create property liens based on older court cases. The health system has failed to respond to repeated requests over two years to disclose the number and value of its property liens. While Virginia property liens expire after 20 years, UVA Health often renews them. Since 2017 in one county alone, it has renewed more than three dozen liens, meaning the medical system could seize families’ home equity until 2039 for bills dating to the last century.
UVA Health has also placed liens on homes outside of Virginia, including a Nevada vacation condo owned by Veronica Musie’s family. The total amount was $30,600 for a decade-old hospital bill.
The addition of 6 percent simple interest accumulating year after year means the final amount owed for an old hospital bill can be much more than the original charges.
“It could be your grandmother’s house, and as soon as you’ve inherited it, and you’ve got judgments, those [liens] are now attached,” Richmond Court Clerk Edward Jewett told Kaiser Health News.
“We know all [health care] providers bill a lot, but usually ‘a lot’ is three to six times what reasonable prices would be,” Jordan Weintraub, vice president of claims for WellRithms, also said in the article. Trying to collect 10 times as much, she said, “is really out there.”
Have you ever discovered a property lien for an old hospital bill? What did you do? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.