Medical debt has long triggered financial stress and bankruptcies in the United States. Many financially struggling patients remain unaware of hospital charity care programs, or they are overwhelmed by paperwork necessary to qualify. Bills can be hard to decipher and confusing to pay. And when debts end up in court, few defendants have legal help. Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch
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Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

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Today we highlight our story about how some hospitals continue to sue patients over medical debt during the pandemic — particularly Froedtert South hospital in Kenosha.

In April, Froedtert South said it would make debt lawsuits “rare” during the pandemic, reports Bram Sable-Smith of WPR and Wisconsin Watch. But the hospital has since filed at least 231 lawsuits in small claims court against debtors, eclipsing its annual total from 2019.  

Sable-Smith follows Alysa Gummow, a single-mom in Kenosha who is recovering from COVID-19, as she struggles to navigate the hospital’s billing system and tries to negotiate her debt without a lawyer.

A previous Wisconsin Watch/WPR investigation found that hospitals statewide sued dozens of patients during the early weeks of the pandemic. Following that story, several hospitals pledged to pause or at least slow down aggressive debt collection.

Top Stories

Medical debt has long triggered financial stress and bankruptcies in the United States. Many financially struggling patients remain unaware of hospital charity care programs, or they are overwhelmed by paperwork necessary to qualify. Bills can be hard to decipher and confusing to pay. And when debts end up in court, few defendants have legal help. Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch

A Wisconsin hospital promised to stop suing most patients during the pandemic. Then it filed 200 lawsuits. — WPR/Wisconsin Watch 

Congress strikes long-sought stimulus deal to provide $900 billion in aid — The New York Times

Evers offers more modest $100 million COVID-19 plan to push GOP action before year ends — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Tony Evers reaches out to GOP lawmakers in hopes of reaching compromise on COVID-19 package — Wisconsin State Journal 

UW System campuses may serve as COVID-19 vaccine distribution hubs — Wisconsin State Journal 

Coronavirus vaccinations are beginning in Wisconsin. Some people of color are skeptical. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Worried about the COVID-19 vaccine? Doctors and experts clear up some common concerns. — Appleton Post-Crescent 

First Moderna shipment to arrive in state today; more than 10K vaccinated last week — Kenosha News

Quotable

“When our ICU’s reached 95% occupancy in mid-November, I think people realized this was real, maybe some of their friends or relatives were critically ill, and they hadn’t really experienced that before.”

— Dr. John Raymond, CEO and president of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, commenting on a recent decline in new COVID-19 cases

Data to note

WisContext offers these visualizations of Wisconsin COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. New documented COVID-19 infections have continued to decline from a mid-November peak, now hovering at levels seen in mid-October. The state is seeing a similar decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Still, dozens of Wisconsinites continue to die from the disease each day. 

Calculate your exposure risk

In Wisconsin, even small gatherings can carry a big risk of exposure to the coronavirus, according to a nationwide tool that estimates the danger by the size of gathering and county in which it is held. Data scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University developed the tool, which you can find here.

Resilient Wisconsin

People helping others and showing resilience during this time of anxiety. Send suggestions by tagging us on social media — @wisconsinwatch — or emailing us: tips@wisconsinwatch.org

Q&A: Porchlight’s Kim Sutter has seen COVID-19 galvanize support for homeless services — Cap Times 

Green Bay launches new COVID-19 grant for small businesses — Green Bay Press-Gazette

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The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.