Atrium Health halts lawsuits against patients for unpaid medical bills

Atrium Health halts lawsuits against patients for unpaid medical bills

  • October 17, 2023
  • 1 Comment

In a noteworthy and quietly implemented policy change, Atrium Health, a prominent nonprofit healthcare system in North Carolina, has ceased its practice of suing patients for unpaid medical bills. This momentous shift has garnered applause from advocates who have long argued that pursuing legal action against patients struggling with medical costs is ethically questionable. This article delves into the details of this development, offering an easy-to-understand explanation of the situation, its implications, and what it means for healthcare accessibility and affordability.

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1. Atrium Health’s Policy Shift

Atrium Health, as the top collector of medical debt in North Carolina in recent years, decided to stop suing patients for unpaid medical bills in November 2022. The change marks a significant departure from its previous practices and aims to make healthcare more affordable and equitable. This shift in approach has not been widely publicized but holds considerable significance.

2. The Ethical Debate

Critics have long contended that it’s morally wrong for a publicly chartered, multibillion-dollar nonprofit hospital to resort to legal action against patients for medical costs often beyond their control. This section explores the ethical concerns and the views of advocates, including Corine Mack, President of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP.

3. Impact on Patients

While the policy change has been celebrated, it may not provide immediate relief to those patients who already face judgments and liens on their homes. This section discusses the potential impact on affected patients and the challenges they may continue to encounter.

4. National Context

Atrium Health’s past record shows it filed more lawsuits against patients for medical debt than any other North Carolina hospital from 2017 to June 2022. This statistic raises questions about the role of lawsuits in addressing medical debt and how Atrium’s actions compared to those of other healthcare institutions in the United States.

5. Wider Healthcare Practices

In a broader context, this section examines the practices of other U.S. hospitals regarding lawsuits for unpaid medical bills. It highlights the criticisms these practices have faced and the challenges posed by mounting medical debt, especially in North Carolina.

6. The North Carolina Situation

North Carolina faces a particular issue when it comes to medical debt. About one in five families in the state has medical debt in collections, a higher figure than the national average. This section discusses the specific challenges faced by North Carolinians and the significance of Atrium Health’s policy change.

7. The Under-the-Radar Change

Atrium Health initially declined to comment on this new policy but later issued a statement, explaining that the change aligns with their goal of providing affordable healthcare. This section delves into the process and the lack of a public announcement regarding this significant shift.

8. Questions About Implementation

This section raises questions about how this policy change was implemented and whether it was voted on by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners, the public body overseeing Atrium Health.

9. Legal Framework and Implications

This section discusses how the new billing and collections policy on Atrium’s website no longer includes lawsuits as an action. It also explores the legal implications of judgments that can last for up to 20 years in North Carolina and automatically place liens on people’s homes.

10. The Merger with Advocate Aurora Health

Atrium Health’s merger with Advocate Aurora Health in December 2022 and its implications for this policy shift are examined. Advocate Aurora Health’s existing collections policy, which does not seem to allow for lawsuits, is discussed.

11. The Legal Community’s Reaction

This section touches upon how two Charlotte attorneys learned of Atrium Health’s policy change when contacted by news outlets. Their perspectives and concerns are shared, highlighting the impact on existing judgments.


  • What prompted Atrium Health to stop suing patients for unpaid medical bills?
  • How does Atrium’s past record compare to other North Carolina hospitals in terms of lawsuits for medical debt?
  • What challenges do patients with existing judgments and liens face?
  • How long do judgments in North Carolina last, and what are the implications for patients?


In summary, Atrium Health’s decision to stop suing patients for unpaid medical bills is a significant step toward more patient-focused healthcare. It raises ethical questions, highlights the challenges posed by medical debt, and sets an example for other healthcare institutions. While the impact on affected patients with existing judgments remains a concern, this policy change reflects a positive shift in the healthcare landscape, prioritizing affordability and accessibility.

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