A Kansas City, Mo., law firm has filed a class-action lawsuit against a health care company, alleging that it used an in-house collection department to contact patients about their medical bills, but misrepresented itself as a third party unrelated to the company, in violation of two sections of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The Potts Law Firm filed suit earlier this week on behalf of plaintiffs Brett Smith, Saundra Smith and Aaron Dillman, and parties to be named later, in U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, against St. Joseph-based Heartland Health Inc., Heartland Regional Medical Center Inc. and Midwestern Health Management Inc.

The complaint, obtained by CCR, alleges that all three defendants used an alias, "Northwest Financial Services," to collect on medical debt by letter and phone calls. Collectors, who are employees of the three defendants, "purposefully do not reveal themselves to be related in any way" to the defendants, "thus deliberately attempting to create the false impression that they are separate and unrelated, when in fact, that is not the case," the complaint states.

Northwest's correspondence with debtors refers to the defendants as clients, creating the impression that they are unrelated companies, the suit alleges.

Such practices are in violation of the following FDCPA subsections:

  • 10: The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer.

  • 14: The use of any business, company, or organization name other than the true name of the debt collector's business, company or organization.

The complaint seeks plaintiffs' actual damages, damages of $1,000 per violation and/or per letter or phone conversation, up to $500,000, any court-assessed damages plus attorney's fees and costs – trebled by having three defendants facing the same charges, should the court decide in the plaintiffs' favor.
If a judge certifies the case, its outcome could affect every Heartland patient who has been contacted by Northwest in the past year, the St. Joseph Press-News reported Friday.

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