When a judge hears civil cases at the courthouse in this southwest Virginia town two days a month, many of the lawsuits have a common plaintiff: the local hospital, Ballad Health, suing patients over unpaid medical bills.
On a Thursday in August, 102 of the 160 cases on the docket were brought by Ballad. Among the defendants were a schoolteacher, a correctional officer, a stay-at-home mother and even a Ballad employee — all of whom had private insurance but were still responsible for a large share of their bill, the result of large deductibles and copayments.
Ballad, which operates the only hospital in Wise County and 20 others in Virginia and Tennessee, filed more than 6,700 medical debt lawsuits against patients last year. Ballad’s hospitals have brought at least 44,000 lawsuits since 2009, typically increasing the volume each year.
In nearly all such cases, the hospitals prevail. Only about a dozen patients showed up for the August court date in Wise, hoping to work out a payment plan or contest the claims.