NY hospitals have placed thousands of liens on patients’ homes over bills, report finds

NY hospitals have placed thousands of liens on patients’ homes over bills, report finds


Northwell’s Lenox Hill Hospital, which filed 40 of the liens, was the only hospital in the city to engage in the practice during that period, the Community Service Society said.

Barbara Osborn, a Northwell spokeswoman, called the report “misleading and inaccurate” and said the system “never and will never force the sale of anyone’s property.”

“When patients can afford to pay their medical bills but choose not to, their actions endanger our ability to provide high-quality care to our community and threatens our promise to provide financial assistance to those that cannot afford care,” Osborn said in a statement. “The lien created by the judgment sits passively, with no action taken until the property is at some point sold and all creditors with judgments are paid.”

State law permits nonprofit hospitals to place liens on patients’ homes after winning a favorable judgment in a medical-debt lawsuit. A bill now pending in Albany would bar hospitals from securing liens against patients’ primary residences; 10 states have such laws on the books, said Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Service Society.

Benjamin said liens have a “ruinous” impact on patients, jeopardizing their ability to sell or refinance their home or get a loan to buy a car or pay college tuition. She said the practice disproportionately affects people of color and low-income patients, many of whom are not paying their medical bills because they cannot afford to do so.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who chairs his chamber’s health committee and is sponsoring the legislation, called the practice “unconscionable.”

Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, which represents 246 hospitals and healthcare systems, said the report “ignores the extensive work by hospitals to assist patients to be covered for services provided and to further insulate them from personal liability if they qualify for financial assistance.”

Northwell, for example, provided more than $250 million in at-cost charity care and issued 40,000-plus zero-interest payment plans in 2020, Osborn said.

Benjamin said many hospital patients are unaware of financial assistance options, in part because the application and policies for aid are not standardized across facilities.

“It may be a generous policy, but it’s in name only,” she said.

The Community Service Society of New York was formed in 1939 to address the root causes of economic disparities through research, advocacy, litigation and programming. It is based in Murray Hill.

This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain’s New York Business.


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