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New law stops Colorado hospitals from suing under another name

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For years, unbeknownst to legislators and the public at large, hospital systems like UCHealth had sued patients in a largely untraceable way.

DENVER — Hospitals in Colorado will no longer be able to sue patients under the names of their debt collectors after Gov. Jared Polis signed into law legislation that followed a lengthy investigation by 9NEWS Investigates and the Colorado Sun.

The practice, first exposed in a joint 9NEWS/Colorado Sun report, permitted hospitals systems like UCHealth to quietly sue thousands of Coloradans every year.  Instead of using their own name as a plaintiff – something that’s publicly traceable – UCHealth, for example, sued nearly 3,000 people per year under the name of its third-party debt collector between 2020 and 2023.

The move, derided by critics, made it virtually impossible to track the amount of lawsuits filed on the medical giant’s behalf.

House Bill 1380 sailed through the last legislative session and was signed by Polis late last week.

During an interview with 9NEWS Investigates reporter Chris Vanderveen earlier this year, UCHealth’s Chief Legal Officer defended the practice of suing under the name of a third-party debt collector.

“We are not hiding anything. There is no mystery as to what is going on here,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed.

RELATED: UCHealth sues thousands of patients every year. But you won’t find its name on the lawsuits.

But critics have said the practice, fully embraced by UCHealth in 2020 according to our review, didn’t just allow the hospital system quietly sue patients. It also deeply confused them.

Lorena Sanchez was one of those patients. After a 2021 crash on Interstate 25, she repeatedly told paramedics not to take her to the hospital. When they did, she said, she asked for no more than an X-ray to check for broken bones. Doctors at UCHealth Memorial North elected to do a CT scan as well.

More than a year later, Sanchez received a bill for more than $24,000.

Unable to pay, she repeatedly tried to negotiate her bill. That eventually led to what she was told, in writing, would be a 73% reduction in the bill.

But last year, she received a summons from a company she didn’t know. Credit Systems Inc (CSC) was suing her for $24,528.

“This is unfair,” she said. “This is not the right thing. This is not the right thing.”

Turns out, CSC was acting as a representative of the debt, as it is not UCHealth’s practice to sell its debt, according to Cooper Melmed.

State Sen. Sonya Jaquez-Lewis (D-Boulder) praised the 9NEWS/Colorado Sun investigation adding it helped inspire a push to end the practice during the latest legislative session.

“I was shocked by your story. I was shocked by the volume of the cases,” she said. She and Sen. Lisa Cutter (D-Jefferson County) sponsored HB-1380, along with Rep. Javier Mabrey (D-Denver).

UCHealth did eventually tell us just how often it had sued patients between 2019 and 2023: 15,710 times.

That comes out to roughly eight lawsuits a day, every day, for five years.

RELATED: 15-minute procedure to remove earwax results in $1,800 bill

RELATED: Colorado hospital giant’s lawsuits fill county courtrooms with defendants and confusion

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New law stops Colorado hospitals from suing under another name

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