“It’s sad for the average lower-income person to have to struggle so hard and then they just come along and take it.”
Over three years, hospitals and medical facilities have garnished more than $390 million from South Carolinians. For months, WBTV has been reporting on how hospitals garnish patients’ money for unpaid bills. The South Carolina Department of Revenue makes it easy for them through the Setoff and GEAR programs.
Records obtained by WBTV from SCDOR show know hospital has faced more patient protests than Beaufort Memorial, 252 since 2020. The hearing officer found 66 of those patients did not owe the debt, according to the SCDOR records.
Beaufort Memorial patients can also review financial assistance and payment plans on the hospital website.
South Carolina statutes require hospitals to send a detailed notification of the pending garnishment and the process for protesting the claim. WBTV outlined the steps.
1. File a protest with the Claimant Agency (Hospital/Medical Center)
a. The written protest must be mailed to the Claimant Agency. If you did not receive a notification, send the letter to the hospital address with “ATTN: Setoff/GEAR Coordinator.” Include the following information in your written/typed protest.
b. Your name.
c. Your address.
d. Your social security number.
e. The type of debt in dispute.
f. A detailed statement of all reasons you disagree with the debt amount or dispute that you owe the debt.
g. Patients have 30 days after receiving the garnishment notice to file the protest.
2. The Claimant Agency is then required to schedule a hearing. However, the hearing officer is appointed by the claimant/hospital and determines whether or not the patient owes the amount being garnished. The hearing officer most notify SCDOR of the outcome of the hearing before any amount can be garnished.
3. When the hearing officer finds the debt is valid, patients can appeal the decision to the South Carolina Administrative Law Judge Division. Patients have 30 days after the claimant agency hearing to file an appeal with the ALJ.
The South Carolina Code of Laws also contains a detailed list of garnishees ability and steps to protest under SECTION 12-56-62.
Recently, WBTV discussed a case where a hospital attempted to steal a patient’s tax refund. Beaufort Memorial Hospital tried to garnish Henrietta Goode’s tax refund for an allegedly unpaid medical bill. Goode has auto-immune problems that force her to frequently visit Beaufort Memorial.
In 2021, Goode received a letter from Beaufort Memorial notifying her that they were going to collect on an unpaid medical bill by garnishing her tax refund. The total amount was $2,436. However, Goode had no idea what the bill was for and Beaufort Memorial refused to identify where the charge came from either.
Goode followed all the steps. The Beaufort Memorial hearing officer found that the debt was valid. Of course, the hearing officer in Goode’s case is an executive at Beaufort Memorial. The officer actually served on the board of trustees.
“This doesn’t seem very fair because if you work for the hospital and you work for GEAR, then I don’t stand a chance.”
But Goode appealed the ruling to the state’s Administrative Law Judge Division. Before she ever got the hearing, she says the hospital’s attorney contacted her to settle and wipe away the debt. I hope others fight like Henrietta Goode.