Ms. Price, 40, a nurse and local 4-H leader, has been sued five times by Carlsbad Medical Center, for bills totaling more than $17,000.
It’s not because she and her children are uninsured; according to the hospital, the charges are what she owed after her insurer had paid. But Ms. Price said she had never received an itemized bill outlining exactly what she owed money for. The collection agency wanted the balance in full, and she was not able to work out a payment plan until after she was sued.
In this town, she has a lot of company.
An examination of court records by The New York Times found almost 3,000 lawsuits filed by Carlsbad Medical Center against patients over medical debt since 2015, more than 500 of them through August of this year alone. Few hospitals sue so many patients so often.
Ms. Price’s sister, a police dispatcher, has been sued twice. Her husband has been sued. The county judge who hears many of these cases was once sued, too.
Nationally, more than one in four consumers in 2018 were reported to credit bureaus over unpaid debt, according to the Consumer Credit Protection Bureau. More than half of those reports involved medical bills. One survey of women with breast cancer found that a third of those with health insurance had been referred to bill collectors; among those without insurance, the number rose to 77 percent.
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