Georgia Bill Would Allow Public Hospitals To Seize Tax Refunds For Payment

Rising medical costs are a problem affecting people all across the nation, with millions struggling to make ends meet and still be able to pay their medical bills.  Though only one of many reasons for such a problem, hospital bills can often contain errors, sometimes even purposely to make up for other losses.  However, hospitals can struggle to pay their bills, too.  Many rural hospitals especially, due to rising medical and health insurance costs, are struggling mightily to keep their doors open.  It is precisely these types of hospitals that are now pushing for the passage of House Bill 81 in Georgia.

Under House Bill 81, which has already passed through the Georgia House of Representatives, certain hospitals would be allowed to seize and pay themselves from the state tax returns of patients with unpaid hospital debts.  The seizure would not require court action or judgment beforehand, but would only allow a 30-day notice to the patient during which they may pay the debt or otherwise contest the seizure.  The bill would also allow the Georgia Department of Community Health to asses a collection fee of $20 per collection and seizure, which will otherwise raise state funds.

Of course, the bill does face some opposition.  Some argue that the purpose of the bill itself misses its mark when enforced against many, because the vast majority of people who are leaving their hospital bills unpaid are doing so in order to be able to keep their homes, their vehicles to get back and forth from work, and other bare necessities.  Taking tax returns from these people may only further exacerbate their financial issues, many argue.

As written, the bill would only apply to hospitals operated by a government authority, though the intention is to help struggling rural hospitals and not those located in large cities.  Many employed by these hospitals understand both sides to the argument, with an understanding that many patients are hurting financially but that in turn can put the same effect on the hospitals those patients visit.  Rather than apply the bill across the board with no caveats, the bill does include provisions requiring hospitals to apply their financial assistance discounts to patient debtors who meet the qualifications for such.

Though this bill may be well-intentioned, it may have unintended adverse consequences for those struggling financially.  As the bill progresses forward, it will be interesting to see whether further changes are made to add more patient debtor protections.