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Hospitals Suing Patients & Book Famine: Monday’s Show (February 16, 2015)

Last month, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley told NPR and ProPublica he was “astounded” by the collection practices of some non-profit hospitals, who are seizing wages of low-income patients. NPR and ProPublica have found hundreds of such instances, which Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, says could be illegal. They would be, for sure, here in […]

Last month, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley told NPR and ProPublica he was “astounded” by the collection practices of some non-profit hospitals, who are seizing wages of low-income patients. NPR and ProPublica have found hundreds of such instances, which Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, says could be illegal.

They would be, for sure, here in Texas, where hospitals aren’t allowed to garnish wages. That doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t sue patients, a practice that does occur in Greater Houston…

A 2013 Houston Press review found the practice has been going on since 1999, and that one area non-profit hospital filed suit against more than 90 patients during that time for unpaid medical bills. While many of those lawsuits were ultimately dismissed, the Houston Press profiled one extreme case from 2012, in which an uninsured patient was billed for more than $400,000.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we learn more about the circumstances under which a non-profit hospital may be inclined to sue a patient. We talk with Diana Wray of the Houston Press about her reporting, and with ProPublica’s Paul Kiel about his newsroom’s joint project with NPR. Then, we learn how these lawsuits tend to play out in court, as we talk with Tariq Gladney, a staff attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, who has represented several low-income patients sued by hospitals, and University of Houston Law Professor Patricia Gray, who directs research at the UH Law Center’s Health and Law Policy Institute.

Also this hour: A Houston-based non-profit called the Good Steward Global Initiative is working to build libraries in areas of the African nation of Malawi experiencing what the initiative calls “book famines.” This effort comes on the heels of recent devastating floods displacing hundreds of thousands in the country. While we all tend to respond to damage caused by natural disasters with food, clothing and other emergency assistance, GSGI is focused on making sure folks in Malawi have the books they need.

We discuss the concept of “book famine” – where it tends to occur and why, and how establishing libraries in communities worldwide that need them can make a meaningful difference. We also explore whether such efforts are harder to build interest around as fewer people in connected communities hold and read physical books on a regular basis. We welcome your questions for David Salako, Project Coordinator for the Malawi Libraries Project for the Good Steward Global Initiative.

Plus: After a 29-point performance in this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, James Harden — along with the rest of the Houston Rockets — get a bit of a break with no games scheduled until Friday. Then, they face a furious stretch, with ten games in 15 nights. We discuss what they need to accomplish in the coming weeks as they make a final push for the playoffs. We also consider other developments in Houston sports, as we talk with CultureMap Houston’s MK Bower.

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