Lawsuit: Hospital illegally sued many poor patients

0

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A woman sued by a Las Cruces hospital filed a countersuit this week, alleging the Mountain View Regional Medical Center violated a state law that protects low-income patients from medical debt collection actions.

The class action counterclaim alleges that the hospital unlawfully sued more than 200 patients without first verifying whether their income protects them from debt collection actions under a 2021 law.

Mountain View responded in a written statement Wednesday that it has policies in place to ensure compliance with the law.

The suit was filed Tuesday by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty on behalf of a Las Cruces woman who was sued by the hospital in July for nonpayment of about $6,000.

“If they want to sue someone — if they want to send someone to collections — their burden is to check that person’s income first,” said Nicolas Cordova, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. who filed the complaint.

“Basically they have to do their homework and make sure they can legally sue this person,” he said.

In 2021, lawmakers approved the Patient Debt Collection Protection Act, which prohibits collection actions against patients whose household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level, or $55,500 for a family of four.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law in April 2021.

The law also prohibits hospitals from using “third parties” to carry out collection actions with indigent patients.

Cordova said the counterclaim marks the first attempt to use the law to represent a class of patients.

Mountain View Regional Medical Center responded Wednesday that it has taken steps to comply with the law.

“MountainView Regional Medical Center is aware of state law requirements regarding the collection of medical debts and the policies and procedures previously implemented to ensure compliance with the law,” the hospital said in a written statement.

“We are not aware of any deviations from these policies and procedures,” the statement said. “We will review the allegations in the lawsuit and work with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty if the review identifies errors or deviations from hospital policies and procedures.”

The Mountain View Regional Medical Center is owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc., according to the company’s website.

Mountain View filed a lawsuit in July against Ruby Ramirez of Las Cruces demanding payment of $6,205 for unspecified services. The counterclaim was filed in response to this lawsuit.

“Ms. Ramirez has qualifying income that should protect her from this exact type of lawsuit,” Cordova said. “But like so many other patients in New Mexico, Mountain View has not verified Ms. Ramirez’s income. before filing this complaint.

The lawsuit against Ramirez was filed by Missouri-based law firm Faber & Brand, which is also named as a defendant in the counterclaim.

The law firm is unlawfully suing for debt collection on behalf of Mountain View “without first asking the hospital whether the patients had been determined to be indigent patients,” the counterclaim alleges.

Faber & Brand did not immediately respond to emails Wednesday seeking comment. Efforts to reach the company by telephone were unsuccessful.

The counterclaim was filed Tuesday in the 3rd Judicial District Court against Las Cruces Medical Center LLC, doing business as Mountain View Regional Medical Center.

It also names Missouri law firm Faber & Brand as a defendant, alleging that the firm is acting as a debt collector for the hospital.

The claim asks a 3rd Judicial District Court judge to certify the case as a class action on behalf of at least 200 indigent patients sued by Mountain View since the law took effect on July 1, 2021.

He is also asking the judge to order the hospital to stop filing lawsuits without verifying the income status of patients, to dismiss pending lawsuits against indigent patients, and to return the money it received in seizing patients’ wages.

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.