Action 9 investigates hospitals filing liens despite bill being paid

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - If you're in a car accident, many local hospitals that treat you will then take action against you in court. 

Action 9's Todd Ulrich found that thousands of patients had liens filed against them even though they were fully insured. 
 
Todd Ulrich learned the liens can impact the credit of former patients and remain long after the medical bills are paid.

A Seminole County woman, who wants to remain anonymous, said it just happened to her husband.

She said the hospital filed a lien against her husband for nearly $70,000 just a week after emergency surgery for crash injuries.

“I was absolutely shocked," she said. "They know this bill is going to be paid by someone.”

The lien is a legal claim against any future insurance settlement and to some it looks like the person is not paying their bills.
 
“Absolutely, I think the whole thing is completely unfair,” the woman said.

Action 9 found several thousand liens filed against car accident victims by local hospitals, and the hospitals are using a 55-year-old law to do it. 

The Florida law was intended to assist hospitals file liens and collect payments from uninsured patients who came through emergency rooms.  But Ulrich learned that many are filed against people who have insurance.

Critics like attorney Brett Bressler call that tactic aggressive and unfair. 

“Most of the time that balance is inaccurate and that lien may be invalid in the first place,” said Bressler.

Bressler represents clients who discovered that liens after their bills were paid that can cause financial harm. 

“It makes it look like the patient owes whatever the total charges are,” said Bressler.

Car accident victim Jewel Brown had no idea a hospital had filed a $20,000 lien against her until Action 9 told her about it. 
 
“This is the first time I'm hearing about a lien,” Brown said.

She was an insured emergency room patient after a November car wreck.  

She said her insurance company has paid the bill at its in-network rates. 

“My insurance company paid that off, yes they did,” Brown said.

Orlando Health said the law requires the lien is filed within 10 days and personal injury lawyers will attempt to collect damages before the hospital charges are paid.  

The hospital's attorney also said once the bill is paid, a lien satisfaction is filed in all cases.

Wuesthoff Hospital and Orlando Health told Ulrich that the liens are against insurance settlements so the hospital is paid first. Critics say the liens are used to collect premium hospital billings, not the lower discounted rates.

Statement to Action 9 in response to this story:

Orlando Health does not file liens against patients or property. A hospital lien is a step taken to help ensure the organization receives payment for medical services provided to patients when there is a financial settlement by a third party payer. Orlando Health releases liens in a timely manner once payments are received.

Without taking measures to guarantee payments for services rendered, patients can receive settlements and neglect medical bills, leaving hospitals without payment for the medical care provided. In the past, Orlando Health has been adversely impacted in such instances.

Because hospitals have only 10 days from patient discharge dates to file liens or risk the ability to recover payments, liens may be filed while some patients are still hospitalized, due to the severity of their conditions. Securing payments for medical services is vital to continuing our mission to care for our community today and in the future.

Orlando Health works with patients who are underinsured or uninsured by assisting in applying for government assistance and/or our community charity care program.