“Heartless” Heartland and Its Modern Debtor Prison

MedicalBillsNew Orleans    The fight to guarantee accountability of nonprofit, tax exempt hospitals to their responsibilities to “do no harm” and operate for charitable purposes may have a new rule from the Treasury Department and the IRS requiring such care, but it seems we also have a “wanted” poster for one of the bad guys in “Heartless” Heartland Hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri.  “Heartless” Hospital of course has been the feature of several ProPublica stories by Paul Kiel, we’ve talked about them on Wade’s World, and we’re now looking to see if there are other “Heartless Hospitals beginning in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, but getting our eyes crunched in the money churning, family threatening gears of Heartland Hospital’s debt collection machinery has been a blood boiler for our Boston-based researcher, Mike Gallagher.

He’s spent many hours recently while walled in by snowstorms in that city, going through the on-line court records of Northwest Financial Services, the Heartland debt collector, who have sued many of their patients for outstanding bills.  Let’s take a look at the amounts they are trying to collect and the jobs that their patients do for a living:

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Have you had enough?  I know I have!  Oh, there’s lots more.  More McDonalds’ workers, some hairdresser with Fantastic Sam’s, workers over at Arby’s, Motel 6, and of course Walmart.  These jobs are a snapshot of the working class in America working in service, nonprofits, nursing homes, auto shops, meat processors, and even one of their own employees for goodness sakes.

And, yes, one or two of those bills were whoopers in the five and six figures, although you have to wonder at the real odds of collecting even a lifetime of garnishments might be from a gas station or a Cheddars restaurant or as a concrete worker, although the point may be permanent debt, saving lives to create an income stream of debt for lifetimes.  Patients aren’t so much released from the hospital as put on debt parole.  Over and over you read between the lines and the real story is that people caught the fickle finger of fate and got sick and now thanks to the Heartland debt collecting machine, they will spent the rest of their life paying for it, because their employers didn’t provide insurance and the government didn’t offer a safety net for the working stiff at these places.

More perplexing is trying to figure out what the heck Heartland and hospitals like them, who are charitable not even in “name only,” but more as a tax dodge, are hoping to get from some poor Joe or Jane who owes $500 or even $1500.  By the time they put them in collection, pay the court costs and lawyers, there’s nothing they would gain bleeding the turnips you would think.  But then I’m forgetting that they are hoping to keep all of these lower waged workers in their modern debtors’ prison.  At 9% interest it’s not the couple of hundred but the opportunity to bleed them endlessly for years.

This is not business, it’s legally approved extortion.  At least until this new rule has enough teeth to bite back.