What happened in Memphis didn’t stay in Memphis when MLK50-ProPublica broke the news about Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s aggressive debt collection practices. Revelations that Methodist was using the courts more than any area hospital system, filing more than 8,300 lawsuits over a five-year period, both startled and resonated with national thought-leaders, policymakers, activists and politicians.
“Rapacious,” is what one verified Twitter commenter called Methodist’s approach to debt collection.
Should note that this terrific investigation into the rapacious tactics of Memphis nonprofit hospital is by @wendi_c_thomas, a member of our Local Reporting Network–and a prime example of why we need folks doing deep dives in their communities. https://t.co/OU5DxYds9h
— tracyweber (@tracyweber) June 27, 2019
The limelight forced Methodist to call for a 30-day review of its collections activities. On July 30, top Methodist officials announced the hospital system would raise the minimum wage it pays employees, dramatically expand its financial assistance policy for hospital care and stop suing its own employees for unpaid medical debts.
Everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert M. Califf weighed in, retweeted and widely shared the MLK50-ProPublica Profiting from the Poor series. Medical professionals as well as everyday Memphians posted and tweeted reactions and personal stories about their experience with Methodist, in particular, and with the nation’s healthcare system, overall.
American innovation is world leading, but the delivery system needs a major reset. its lost its moral compass. @dukeforge Low-Wage Workers Are Being Sued for Unpaid Medical Bills by a Nonprofit Christian Hospital That Employs Them https://t.co/050JOOFL3h
— Robert M Califf (@califf001) June 29, 2019
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) June 28, 2019
Carrie Barrett’s debt collection saga proved gripping as did the story of low-wage Methodist employees who were not immune to being sued by the hospital. Barrett’s share of a two-day stay for chest pain in 2007 initially was $12,019 but grew to about $33,000 in interest, court costs and fees. At age 63, she has never earned more than $12 an hour.
Through the courage of telling her story, Barrett bore witness around the world. Ironically, much of that world, the developed parts, offers universal healthcare. This is in stark contrast with a country where underinsurance is the norm, and Tennessee has refused to opt into the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, championing a much more limited Medicaid block grant that would need federal approval.
Several news outlets in print, online, radio and TV published or aired stories on the series, and reacted to the revelations, including The Guardian, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” Truthout, Real Clear Investigations and The Commercial Appeal. Healthcare experts have shared it widely, and the series is now a talking point within industry circles based on citations in newsletters, reposts and mentions.
And this hospital has #340B drug discounts to stretch their “scarce” resources in helping people exactly like Carrie Barrett.
— Ted Okon (@TedOkonCOA) June 28, 2019
Here are more examples of what people have been saying about Profiting from the Poor, including many voices from healthcare.
Stuff like this will comtinue to happen unless we change how we manage health finance. My suggestion: https://t.co/KJWU6F6Uzj. Otherwise, we’ll just keep spinning our wheels…
— Brian J Dixon MD (@DrDixonFtW) June 27, 2019
Regional One Health employees get services for free at Regional One. Doors are still open. Methodist absolutely could do the same. The love of money stands in the way.
— Drew Tucker (@DrewTuckerDPT) June 29, 2019
Faces of #340B? Shocking @propublica report on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, a “nonprofit” #hospital, #340B covered entity (DSH38104D), and @340BHealth member that “Makes Millions, Owns a Collection Agency and Relentlessly Sues the Poor” https://t.co/KxpOOQVOPe @wendi_c_thomas
— Adam J. Fein (@DrugChannels) June 27, 2019
John W. Ayers, who identifies himself as a Johns Hopkins/Harvard-trained epidemiologist and associate professor in the Infectious Disease & Global Public Health Division at University of California, San Diego said this:
I look forward to seeing what happens. Hopefully being a Christian hospital they behave Christlike when presented their errors by forgiving their employees.
— John W. Ayers (@JohnWAyers) June 28, 2019
Even those within the United Methodist Church, with whom Methodist is affiliated, took notice:
A #UMC-affiliated hospital system, changes debt-collection policies after report that it was suing its own employees for unpaid bills. Our #UMC Social Principles inspired this change. https://t.co/bC3LZQnHfq Thanks @UMNS and great work @arkansasumc @UM_MemphisConf @tnumc
— Church & Society UMC (@umcjustice) August 6, 2019
Again @MethodistHlth Are you going to respond? Moreover, are you going to change your ways. I am an ashamed member of the United Methodist Church. You should be ashamed as well. @wendi_c_thomas https://t.co/SrI2agFzuG
— Phyllis Gay (@phyllis61) June 28, 2019
Anita Bonds, a Washington, D.C., city councilwoman and United Methodist church member was flabbergasted:
If this is true, then my church has much explaining to do, especially since I contribute every month and have for more than 25 years; moreover, this might be the last straw in my journey with it.
— Anita Bonds (@AnitaBondsDC) June 27, 2019
The Rev. Anthony Anderson, a United Methodist elder, told us: “I am still heartbroken, and I say that spiritually.” His Facebook reaction upon learning of the hospital’s collections practices was:
Local and national media republished the MLK50-ProPublica series, and took notice of the revelations and Methodist’s response by CEO Michael Ugwueke in the June 30 Commercial Appeal, which picked up the series. The host of the “An Arm and a Leg” healthcare podcast weighed in, among others.
— @danweissmann (@danweissmann) June 28, 2019
— Valerie (@valonfox) July 31, 2019
The series made Memphians think and start asking questions about holding institutions and the people who run them accountable:
Y haven’t we heard from county commissioners about this issue & how the courts & or clerks can help the poor ? @tamisawyer @MayorLeeHarris @turnervan357 are the remedies locally ? @MethodistHlth they should hold hearings too @ryanpoe
— FannieLouH (@FannieLouH1) June 30, 2019
In an age of news media disruption, when fewer local journalists are on the ground digging into the structural issues that hold communities back, Steve Mulroy, a University of Memphis law professor and former Shelby County commissioner, commended the series in this Facebook post:
Ultimately, Profiting from the Poor sparked a larger conversation about the American way of healthcare:
The Methodist Debt Machine Series
The story that started it all: Methodist Le Bonheur Makes Millions, Owns a Collection Agency and Relentlessly Sues the Poor and everything that came after, here.
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