For the Cumberland Times-News
ROMNEY, W.Va. — Hampshire Memorial Hospital and Mosaic Finance Solutions will each pay the state $7,500 as part of an agreement, called an assurance of discontinuance, to end unlawful debt collection practices, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Tuesday.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division began investigating Hampshire Memorial and Mosaic after learning that the hospital required consumers to sign a consent form subjecting them to certain collection practices if their accounts became delinquent. The hospital allegedly required patients to sign the form as a condition of receiving medical care.
“Catastrophic medical bills sometimes push consumers already facing difficult circumstances over a financial cliff,” Morrisey said. “My office will remain vigilant to ensure that only lawful means are used to collect legitimate debts and that all companies collecting debts in West Virginia are properly licensed to do so.”
The investigation discovered 11,541 West Virginia consumers signed the form, which required them to agree to several conditions, including:
• Waiving their homestead exemption.
• Allowing their account to be subject to an interest charge of 7 percent on the unpaid balance.
• Being liable for Hampshire Memorial’s attorney fees of 25 percent of the balance due plus collection expenses.
• Receiving autodialed and prerecorded debt collections messages on their cell phones.
According to the investigation, Hampshire Memorial Hospital employed Mosaic, a North Carolina company that was not licensed to collect debt in West Virginia at the time, to pressure consumers with delinquent accounts to sign credit agreements that converted the hospital account into a debt that accrued interest at the rate of 7 percent per month. Records disclosed by Mosaic indicated that 277 West Virginia consumers had signed the credit agreements.
“Mosaic did become licensed to collect debts in West Virginia after our office became involved,” Morrisey said. “But the company has signed the assurance as a promise to refrain from certain other unlawful debt collection tactics it engaged in as well.”
In addition to promising to end the alleged unlawful practices, Hampshire Memorial Hospital and Mosaic each agreed to pay $7,500 to the State of West Virginia that may be used by the Attorney General for a variety of consumer protection purposes or be held for appropriation by the Legislature.
In an assurance of discontinuance, a business owner assures the state in writing that neither he nor his company will engage in conduct that has been deemed as questionable in the future. Businesses enter into the assurances voluntarily, and they are not an admission that the business violated any laws.
Anyone who believes that he may have been a victim of an unfair or deceptive practice in the sale or financing of consumer goods or services may file a complaint by calling the Attorney General’s office at 304-558-8986 or 800-368-8808.