Northwell sued 2,500 patients in 2020: N.Y. Times

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Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. The New York Times reported that the system sued over 2,500 of its patients for unpaid bills last year. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

The New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health system sued 2,500 patients for unpaid medical bills in 2020, according to The New York Times.

Describing an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year that ordered state-run hospitals to stop suing patients over medical debt, and most major health systems in the state making the same decision, the Times story says Northwell, a registered nonprofit, continued with its suits last year.

In the Times story, written by Brian Rosenthal, it is estimated that the Northwell suits sought an average of $1,700 in bills plus interest from patients.

Rosenthal added that shortly after his story was published on Jan. 5, “Northwell abruptly announced it would stop suing patients during the pandemic and would rescind all legal claims it filed in 2020.”

He also noted that while Northwell was not the only system in the state to continue pursuing lawsuits, it was most likely the largest.

“About 50 hospitals in New York have sued a total of 5,000 patients since March, according to a search of filings in courts around the state,” Rosenthal wrote. “Most are small and located upstate. Northwell stood out because of the sheer number of its lawsuits — and because of its connections to Mr. Cuomo.”

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling, who served as state health director and deputy secretary to former Gov. Mario Cuomo, is referred to in the story as the younger Cuomo’s “closest ally in the hospital industry and his liaison to all of the state’s hospitals,” also appearing frequently in news briefings. Rosenthal said that neither a representative from Northwell nor a representative from the governor’s office would comment on whether Cuomo and Dowling had discussed the lawsuits.

Richard Miller, who serves as Northwell’s chief business strategy officer, told Rosenthal in an interview prior to the rescinding of the lawsuits that Northwell “had the right to collect what it was owed,” mentioned a financial-assistance program for low-income patients “that is more generous than required by the government,” and said “the system sues only employed patients that it believes have the ability to pay and who do not respond to outreach attempts.”

“We have no interest in pursing these cases legally. It’s not what we want to do,” Miller told Rosenthal. “Unfortunately, in some cases, they’re not leaving us much of an option.”

New York City hotel worker Carlos Castillo was cited as one patient who had been sued after a seizure hospitalizing him at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. Rosenthal writes that Castillo was sued for $4,043 and “was worried that the hospital would seize his paychecks and leave him unable to pay rent.”

“My salary was cut in half. I’m now working only two days a week. And now I have to deal with this,” Castillo told Rosenthal.

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