New York's largest health system is reportedly suing 2,500 patients over unpaid medical debt even though most hospitals suspended their claims during the coronavirus pandemic

  • Northwell Health, New York's largest health system, sued 2,500 patients last year over unpaid medical debt, The New York Times reported.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James halted the state's collection of medical debt through December 31, 2020.
  • Richard Miller, Northwell's chief business strategy officer, told the Times the health system sued only employed patients who "have the ability to pay and who do not respond to outreach attempts." 
  • Hospitals across the country sent jobless Americans into further debt during the pandemic due to aggressive medical debt collection, ProPublica reported.
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New York's largest health system continued to sue patients over unpaid medical debt as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the US, and as the state attorney general suspended collection of medical debts. 

Northwell Health, which collected $12.5 billion in revenue in 2019, sued more than 2,500 patients last year over unpaid medical bills, according to records obtained by The New York Times. Northwell operates 23 hospitals in the state, including Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, which was hard-hit during the coronavirus outbreak in the spring.

The health system sought an average of $1,700 in unpaid bills, the Times reported, as well as "large interest payments."

Aside from Northwell, 50 mostly small and upstate hospitals sued 5,000 patients in New York since March 2020, per the Times. In November, New York Attorney General Letitia James halted the state's collection of medical debt through December 31, 2020.

Read more: Primary-care clinics hope to play a big role in vaccinating Americans, but some don't know when they'll receive coronavirus shots. 3 major chains lay out how they're preparing despite little information.

Richard Miller, Northwell's chief business strategy officer, told the Times the health system sued only employed patients who "have the ability to pay and who do not respond to outreach attempts." Northwell did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Hospitals across the country sent jobless Americans into further debt during the pandemic due to aggressive medical debt collection, ProPublica reported. A report from Community Service Society found New York hospitals issued 31,000 civil lawsuits against patients for unpaid medical bills between 2015 and 2019. Northwell, NYU Langone, and New York-Presbyterian issued some of the most lawsuits.

NYU Langone and New York-Presbyterian have "largely suspended lawsuits during the pandemic," the Times reported.

Northwell Health has treated more than 100,000 COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic, according to Northwell CEO Michael Dowling. The health system administered the first COVID-19 vaccine in the US outside clinical trials.

The Times pointed out that Dowling is a close ally to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo handpicked the executive to reorganize hospitals to operate as one system in case of a public health emergency after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

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