VCU will halt lawsuits against patients for unpaid bills

VCU will halt lawsuits against patients for unpaid bills
Annie Washington waited outside VCU Health after a medical appointment last year. She was among thousands of patients in Virginia facing lawsuits for unpaid bills. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

VCU Health, the major Richmond medical system that includes the state’s largest teaching hospital, said it will no longer file lawsuits against its patients, ending a practice that has affected tens of thousands of people over the years.

VCU’s in-house physician group filed more than 56,000 lawsuits against patients for $81 million over the seven years ending in 2018, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of district court data. Those suits will end and VCU will increase financial assistance for lower-income families treated at the $2.16 billion system, according to Melinda Hancock, VCU’s chief administrative and financial officer.

Kaiser Health News recently reported that UVA Health, the University of Virginia system, had filed more than 36,000 suits over six years against patients who could not pay their bills. That revelation, published last month in The Washington Post, led UVA to pledge to “positively, drastically” reduce patient lawsuits.

VCU’s new stance on lawsuits goes beyond UVA’s, which promised to stop suing only patients whose income is below 400% of poverty guidelines. UVA officials did not respond to requests for comment.

VCU’s flagship hospital, VCU Medical Center, hasn’t filed patient suits in at least seven years, Hancock said in an interview this week. But its in-house physician group continued to sue patients and families for overdue bills.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.