In Their Debt
Entrants: James Drew and Fred Schulte
Affiliation: The (Baltimore) Sun
Large Newspapers (over 250,000 circ.) & wire services
Place: Second Place
In the early 1970s, Maryland officials devised a system – now the only one in the nation – in which the state sets hospital rates. The goal was to guarantee hospital care whether patients could afford it or not. The state allowed hospitals to mark up their charges to recover the cost of providing free or reduced-price care and debts they wrote off. An eight-month investigation by The (Baltimore) Sun found that over the past five years, some of Maryland's 46 nonprofit hospitals have received millions of dollars from the payment system even as they sued tens of thousands of patients over unpaid bills.
Judges' comments: A model of investigative digging but never dry. Stories of hospital patients who were hounded by hospitals throughout Maryland to pay bills they did not owe because of a unique state law are woven throughout.
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