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Research Letter
June 25, 2019

Prevalence and Characteristics of Virginia Hospitals Suing Patients and Garnishing Wages for Unpaid Medical Bills

Author Affiliations
  • 1Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 2Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 3University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City
JAMA. 2019;322(7):691-692. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.9144

An estimated 20% of US consumers had medical debt in collections in 2014.1 Medical debt has been increasing with direct patient billing, rising insurance deductibles, and more out-of-network care being delivered, even at in-network facilities. Bills sent directly to patients may use the undiscounted price of a hospital’s services and can result in financial hardship2 and avoidance of future medical care.3 Hospitals need to be paid for care delivered, but some bills are unpaid. Hospitals may negotiate, reduce, or write off payments. Some have begun adopting a range of aggressive strategies for collecting unpaid bills, including suing patients and garnishing their wages or bank savings.3 We examined garnishment legal actions among Virginia hospitals.