The Hospital Debt Justice Project reports that a hospital can sue a former patient for unpaid medical bills. The hospital is allowed to sue in an attempt to recover payment for services rendered if the hospital has determined that the patient is ineligible for government health care assistance, including free medical care and discounts based on income.
According to the Hospital Debt Justice Project, the patient being sued must file an Appearance form with the court within a specified amount of time, such as 30 days. If the patient fails to file an Appearance form or does not show up for court, the hospital may win the lawsuit by default. The patient must also prepare and file an Answer with the court. The Answer serves as the patient's defense to the lawsuit. In lieu of suing the patient, the hospital can sue the parents of a minor child, the patient's spouse if not legally separated or a deceased patient's estate for unpaid medical bills.
The Charlotte Observer notes that patients should consult local ordinances and government assistance programs to make sure that they are not eligible for state, local or government assistance for unpaid medical bills. If the hospital wins the lawsuit and the patient cannot pay the award amount, the hospital can place a lien on the patient's property in some states and collect the money after the patient's death or the property is sold. In Illinois, a hospital cannot sue a patient who is financially unable to pay medical bills. In California, a hospital cannot place a lien against a patient's primary residence as restitution for unpaid medical bills.