Hospital files suit to collect unpaid bills from Americans

With $32,254, Whitehorse General Hospital could have bought a two-week supply of medications for all its patients.

With $32,254, Whitehorse General Hospital could have bought a two-week supply of medications for all its patients.

But the hospital hasn’t been able to use that money for anything. In fact, the funds aren’t even in the country.

Four US citizens treated at Whitehorse General at various times over the last five years have stiffed the hospital, according to recently filed court documents.

“It does make a difference,” said hospital CEO Ron Browne referring to the debts.

Over the last month, Yukon Hospital Corporation has filed a claim against each of the US residents in Supreme Court.

The hospital is charging each defendant with a breach of contract.

The Americans were given medical services in exchange for a promise to pay, the suit says.

When they were discharged from the hospital, each patient was handed an invoice for the cost of their care.

Up to now, they have failed to pay their outstanding bills, court documents state.

The suits date back to 2001.

The first involved a resident from Wasilla, Alaska. Hospitalized for three days in June 2001, the patient owes $5,934.

In May 2002, a resident of Pinellas Park, Florida, was taken into the hospital. The cost for four days of medical care came to $7,600.

A resident of Irvington, New Jersey, spent four days in hospital. The treatment received in August 2003 cost $11,550.

A year later, a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, was admitted to the Whitehorse hospital and later given an invoice of $7,170.

Although the suits are international, it shouldn’t be a big problem to collect the outstanding cash, according to Ed Morgan, law professor at the University of Toronto.

Since the 1990s Canada and the US have largely respected and recognized decisions made in each others’ courtrooms, he said.

“It’s inconvenient, but there shouldn’t be a big huge legal problem, because between Canada and the United States court cases and judgments are recognized mutually on each side of the border,” he said.

The same holds for most Western European countries and those belonging to the British Commonwealth, Morgan said.

“Anything that’s at all similar to the English common law or the French civil law system, our courts are very open to enforcing foreign judgments.”

Problems would only arise if Canada were asked to enforce a ruling from a country with a drastically different legal system, or one Canadian courts deemed corrupt.

There may be other drawbacks, though.

“When you’re talking about a $35,000 judgment . . . that sounds like a lot of money for a doctor’s bill. But for a lawyer’s, it ain’t much,” he said with a laugh.

 “You may end up spending $15,000 on the lawyers to collect $30,000.”

Has hospital practice changed in the wake of being shortchanged?

No, said Browne. Tourists and travellers are given medical care whether they can pay up front or not.

“When a non-Canadian is admitted to the hospital, we let them know that they are responsible for their costs, and take any insurance coverage or an imprint of their credit card,” he said.

“But if they don’t have either of those, they’re still admitted.”