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14 states regulate collections; not N.C.

Some states have made it more difficult for hospitals to take aggressive collections action against patients.

At least 14 states set rules about what hospitals can and can’t do to collect on debts. North Carolina is not among them.

Among the rules elsewhere:

• In California, hospitals can’t report a patient’s debt to a credit reporting agency earlier than 150 days after the initial billing. Hospitals are also barred from seizing patients’ wages or placing a lien on their primary residences.

• In New York, hospitals can’t permit forced sale or foreclosure of a patient’s primary residence in order to collect on a bill. Hospitals also can’t send an account to collection while a patient’s application for financial aid is being evaluated. Additionally, the state requires hospitals to notify patients at least 30 days before sending their accounts to collection.

• In Minnesota, hospitals must establish “zero tolerance” policies for abusive debt collections practices. Under an agreement with the state Attorney General’s office, hospitals must review the practices of collections agencies working on their behalf, and ensure that default judgments aren’t obtained until patients have a fair opportunity to respond.

• In Illinois, hospitals can’t pursue collections actions until patients have entered into a “reasonable” payment plan and have defaulted on payments.

• In North Dakota, hospitals can charge only up to $25 per month in interest for late payments.

• In Rhode Island, hospitals are prohibited from forcing a patient’s home into foreclosure.

Such rules are crucial to poor and uninsured patients, advocates say. “The intent here is that underserved populations are able to get the care they need – and not be ruined financially as a result,” says Mark Rukavina, director of the nonprofit Access Project. Ames Alexander

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