Monday, June 22, 2015
As we posted earlier, the Pennsylvania AG recently announced a civil suit seeking to put an end to one debt collector's manner of using Pennsylvania's filial support law to collect certain medical debts. In the petition filed (on May 29, 2015) in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James A. Havassy et al., in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Case No.296 M.D. 2015), the AG alleges:
[Paragraph] 11. The Commonwealth has received multiple complaints from Pennsylvania consumers about some of the debt collection techniques employed by the Hamilton Law Group, P.C. and Defendant Havassy.
a. Consumer 1 is an adult woman who claims that she and her husband have received collection notices from the Defendants indicating that they are responsible for their son’s $366.77 debt owed to an anesthesia practice; her son is an adult and has his own health insurance, and Consumer 1 did not co-sign any paperwork that would leave them financially responsible.
b. Consumer 2 is an adult male who claims that the Defendants are attempting to collect a $148.89 debt for dental services provided to his mother and adult sister.
c. Consumer 3 is an adult male who claims that the Defendants are attempting to collect a $510.79 debt from him for services which were provided to his father by a cardiology practice.
d. Consumer 4 claims that the Defendants attempted to collect a healthcare debt for services that were provided to her adult son; Consumer 4 also complains that the Defendants have negatively marked her credit profile based on this debt.
e. Consumer 5 claims that the Defendants are attempting to collect a $1,751.68 debt incurred by her adult daughter for services rendered by a cardiology practice; Consumer 5 also claims that the Defendants have negatively marked her credit profile based on this debt.
f. Consumer 6 claims that the Defendants are holding her and her husband responsible for the healthcare debts of their deceased son in the amount of $2,040.66, who was an adult when he incurred the debts; Consumer 6 is making payments to the Defendants for their son’s debt.
Pennsylvania's law (23 Pa CSA Sections 4601-4606), which was moved on the books from welfare session laws to the Domestic Relations Code, with some minor modifications, as part of a codification step in 2005, is hardly a model of precision about what items fall within the obligation of an identified family member to "care for and maintain or financially assist" the "indigent person."
From my own past research of the history of cases in Pennsylvania, I can say the use of the law to collect non-facility-based healthcare debts is, at a minimum, unusual, and even more problematic in the absence of evidence (or at least allegations) of indigency on the part of the primary consumer. Further, according to one of the AG's allegations above, it appears that collection efforts may have been made against family members not identified as even "possible" obligors under the statute, namely siblings.
The full petition is also now available on Westlaw at 2015 WL 3792672. No responsive pleadings have been filed yet by the named defendants and in fact the petition may not have been served as of today's date. Remember, allegations are just that -- allegations (a bit of irony, perhaps, given that the AG is alleging that the debt collectors were making improper allegations of liability). The petition available on Westlaw does not include copies of any "debt collection letters" allegedly used.