Legislation proposed to stop hospitals from garnishing wages, placing liens for back debt
Bethany Bump is reporting for the Times Union a new report from the Community Service Society has found that some hospitals systems in New York commonly garnish wages and place liens on the real property of patients with back medical debt. While most hospitals in the state do not report taking such action, the practice is common among some hospital systems that sue for back-owed debt and win. At the top of that list is St. Peter's Health Partners in Albany, followed by Northwell Health and Albany Med, of which Columbia Memorial Health is associated. The report is based on data collected in 2017 and 2018, the most recent available. The practice impacts thousands of New Yorkers a year. The median outstanding debt that triggers the lawsuits is $1,900, according to CSS. When a lien is filed on a person’s home, they generally cannot sell the property without paying off the debt. It can also prevent them from refinancing or obtaining additional loans, such as a home equity loan. CSS found that the practice of taking liens out on patients' homes is most widespread among hospitals in just 15 counties, including Albany, Dutchess, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Ulster counties. Albany Medical Center and its affiliates filed liens on the homes of 482 patients in 2017 and 2018, Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville filed 358 liens, and Ellis Hospital in Schenectady filed 230, the report shows. Not long after the CSS report was released, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would prevent hospitals from this practice. The measure proposed by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried would bar New York hospitals from placing liens or from garnishing wages when they win court judgments in medical debt collection cases. The bill had 16 co-sponsors as of last week, including Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger. Read the full story in the Times Union.