Updated to include comments from Medical City Healthcare.
Dallas-based Deloney Law Group is accused of suing patients of Texas hospitals in what a Johns Hopkins study calls predatory billing practices.
Just seven percent (28 of 414) of Texas hospitals in the study sued patients for unpaid medical bills, but those 28 hospitals generated over 1,000 lawsuits from January 2018 to February 2020. Of the 28 hospitals, 22 were Texas facilities, and the Deloney Law Group was responsible for 83 percent of all lawsuits, accruing $15 million from patients in the process.
While these lawsuits have led to patients having their possessions seized, being sued for seven times their yearly salary, and eventually having to declare bankruptcy, the $17.8 million sought in the 1,003 lawsuits accounted for just 0.15 percent of the hospitals total revenue on average. The median household income was below the national average in 90 percent of the counties where hospitals sued patients. The suits have “had catastrophic consequences for hard-working families who represent the low to lower-middle working class in Texas,” the report says.
The report says that many hospital CEOs and board members were not aware their hospital was suing patients for unpaid bills. Others thought that those being sued had the means to pay, or that the suits were necessary to keep the lights on.
In North Texas, Lake Granbury Medical Center and Weatherford Regional Medical Center were among the hospitals that sued patients. Lake Granbury was responsible for 51 lawsuits and Weathorford 26, the report says. Hill Regional Hospital in Hillsboro added 10 lawsuits. Lake Granbury Medical Center’s 2018 gross revenue was more than $900 million, and the amount won from suing patients was just .04 percent of that amount. Weatherford’s gross revenue is nearly $650 million and it won just .03 percent of that total from suing patients.
Weatherford Regional Medical Center, which was purcahsed by HCA Healthcare in 2017 and is now Medical City Weatherford, but the collections being pursued on behalf of the hospital existed prior to the sale of the facility.
In a statement, Medical City Healthcare wrote, “Neither Medical City Healthcare nor HCA Healthcare have filed lawsuits suing Weatherford Regional patients to collect on medical debt. In fact, over the last few years, HCA Healthcare and Medical City Healthcare issued a policy that stopped litigation activity that involves suing patients or filing liens on healthcare bad debt accounts for our owned facilities. Our uninsured discount policy, our expanded charity policy, our patient liability protection policy along with this practice, shows a focus on our commitment to our patients to provide high quality, affordable health care.”
The study advocates for a standardization of billing practices for hospitals, which currently doesn’t exist. The lack of standardization allows for “immoral practices such as suing patients for medical debt,”the study says. “These practices took advantage of patients when they were most vulnerable and therefore eroded the already diminishing public trust healthcare system.”
Deloney Law Group did not respond to requests for comment.
Research was led by Dr. Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist and professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and included help from researchers at Georgetown University, the University of Texas at Austin and the Columbia University School of Public Health.