What happens to those who don't pay their medical bills: jail

Discussion in 'Health Care' started by kazenatsu, Mar 15, 2020.

  1. kazenatsu

    kazenatsu Well-Known Member Donor

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    I'll provide a short summary of what happens. In many areas of the US, those who don't pay their medical bills are required to repeatedly appear over and over again in front of a court. If they miss even one of those appointments, for whatever reason, they are arrested and held in jail. The judge will set the "bail" amount at the exact same amount as the medical debt, and the "bail" money is just automatically taken to pay off the medical debt, then the person is released.

    These are essentially debtor's prisons.
    And the process has been criticized because basically medical debt collectors have control over who gets arrested. The judges in these cases will almost always sign off on a warrant.

    Some may try to argue that what these people are really being arrested for is failing to appear in court, but in a sense that is only a pretext. These mandatory court appearances are more used by debt collectors as a way to harass debtors. They have to appear over and over again, and if they miss even one appointment, whether accidentally, or because they cannot schedule time off work that day without losing their job, they go to jail.

    When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested
    by Lizzie Presser, October 16, 2019
    The article comes from ProPublica, a non-profit organization.


    Tres Biggs stepped into the courthouse in Coffeyville, Kansas, for medical debt collection day, a monthly ritual in this quiet city of 9,000, just over the Oklahoma border. He was one of 90 people who had been summoned, sued by the local hospital, or doctors, or an ambulance service over unpaid bills. Some wore eye patches and bandages; others limped to their seats by the wood-paneled walls. Biggs, who is 41, had to take a day off from work to be there. He knew from experience that if he didn’t show up, he could be put in jail.

    Before the morning’s hearing, he listened as defendants traded stories. One woman recalled how, at four months pregnant, she had reported a money order scam to her local sheriff’s office only to discover that she had a warrant; she was arrested on the spot. A radiologist had sued her over a $230 bill, and she’d missed one hearing too many. Another woman said she watched, a decade ago, as a deputy came to the door for her diabetic aunt and took her to jail in her final years of life. Now here she was, dealing with her own debt, trying to head off the same fate.

    Biggs, who is tall and broad-shouldered, with sun-scorched skin and bright hazel eyes, looked up as defendants talked, but he was embarrassed to say much. His court dates had begun after his son developed leukemia, and they’d picked up when his wife started having seizures. He, too, had been arrested because of medical debt. It had happened more than once.

    Judge David Casement entered the courtroom. He is a cattle rancher who was appointed a magistrate judge, though he'd never taken a course in law. Judges don’t need a law degree in Kansas, or many other states, to preside over cases like these. Casement asked the defendants to take an oath and confirmed that the newcomers confessed to their debt. A key purpose of the hearing, though, was for patients to face debt collectors. “They want to talk to you about trying to set up a payment plan, and after you talk with them, you are free to go,” he told the debtors. Then, he left the room.

    The first collector of the day was also the most notorious: Michael Hassenplug, a private attorney representing doctors and ambulance services. Every three months, Hassenplug called the same nonpaying defendants to court to list what they earned and what they owned — to testify, quite often, to their poverty. It gave him a sense of his options: to set up a payment plan, to garnish wages or bank accounts, to put a lien on a property. It was called a “debtor’s exam.”

    If a debtor missed an exam, the judge typically issued a citation of contempt, a charge for disobeying an order of the court, which in this case was to appear. If the debtor missed a hearing on contempt, Hassenplug would ask the judge for a bench warrant. As long as the defendant had been properly served, the judge’s answer was always yes. In practice, this system has made Hassenplug and other collectors the real arbiters of who gets arrested and who is shown mercy. If debtors can post bail, the judge almost always applies the money to the debt. Hassenplug, like any collector working on commission, gets a cut of the cash he brings in.

    Across the country, thousands of people are jailed each year for failing to appear in court for unpaid bills, in arrangements set up much like this one. The practice spread in the wake of the recession as collectors found judges willing to use their broad powers of contempt to wield the threat of arrest. Judges have issued warrants for people who owe money to landlords and payday lenders, who never paid off furniture, or day care fees, or federal student loans. Some debtors who have been arrested owed as little as $28.

    More than half of the debt in collections stems from medical care, which, unlike most other debt, is often taken on without a choice or an understanding of the costs. Since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, prices for medical services have ballooned; insurers have nearly tripled deductibles — the amount a person pays before their coverage kicks in — and raised premiums and copays, as well. As a result, tens of millions of people without adequate coverage are expected to pay larger portions of their rising bills.

    The sickest patients are often the most indebted, and they’re not exempt from arrest. In Indiana, a cancer patient was hauled away from home in her pajamas in front of her three children; too weak to climb the stairs to the women’s area of the jail, she spent the night in a men’s mental health unit where an inmate smeared feces on the wall.

    With hardly any oversight by the presiding judge, collection attorneys have turned this courtroom into a government-sanctioned shakedown.

    Hassenplug zipped open his leather binder and uncapped his fountain pen. He is stout, with a pinkish nose and a helmet of salt and pepper hair. His opening case this Tuesday involved 28-year-old Kenneth Maggard, who owed more than $2,000, including interest and court fees, for a 40-mile ambulance ride last year. Maggard had downed most of a bottle of Purple Power Industrial Strength Cleaner, along with some 3M Super Duty Rubbing Compound, “to end it all.” His sister had called 911.

    “The welfare patients are the most demanding, difficult patients on God’s earth,” Hassenplug told me, with Maggard listening, before launching into his interrogation: Are you working? No. Are you on disability? He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and anxiety. Do you have a car? No. Anyone owe you money you can collect? I wish.

    They had been here before, and they both knew Maggard’s disability checks were protected from collections. Hassenplug set down his pen. “Between you and me,” he asked, “you’re never going to pay this bill, are you?”

    “No, never,” Maggard said. “If I had the money, I’d pay it.”

    Hassenplug replied, “Well, this will end when one of us dies.”

    The article also gives another story:

    In Utah, a man who had ignored orders to appear over an unpaid ambulance bill told friends he would rather die than go to jail; the day he was arrested, he snuck poison into the cell and ended his life.


    This is only a piece of the article, the rest can be read here:
    https://features.propublica.org/med...-decide-who-gets-arrested-coffeyville-kansas/

    It sounds like a poorer area of Kansas where a lot of families are struggling, and several of the hospitals in the area have closed down too.

    The attorney for the debt collection agencies gets to keep a third of all the money he is able to get the debtors to pay.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2020
  2. Patricio Da Silva

    Patricio Da Silva Well-Known Member

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    That system is cruel.

    That would not happen to you in CA. Even before the ACA, I had a $4000 medical bill which i could not afford to pay, the Hospital sent me some bills, but after a year, they left me alone. I've worked as a jazz musician, and never earned a lot of money on a steady basis.

    Single payer is the answer.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2020
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  3. Steady Pie

    Steady Pie Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    Pay yo bills.
     
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  4. fiddlerdave

    fiddlerdave Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    I have an idea! Trump is legendary for failing to pay his bills and debt!

    Lets check with the President of the USA and ask why he doesn't feel obligated to pay his bills?

    And do the same!
     
  5. Steady Pie

    Steady Pie Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    If you didn't want the medical care you shouldn't have got it, if you had no other choice accept your punishment for theft like a man.
     
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  6. fiddlerdave

    fiddlerdave Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    Lol!

    If trump didn't want to make himself Presidential, he should have contracted to spend 10s of millions of taxpayer dollars to try to make himself popular to become president without paying for it!

    And please, show us when this President has paid his debts and then we might think he might be acting like a "man"!

    There are certainly no obvious examples of that.
     
  7. Steady Pie

    Steady Pie Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    I agree on Trump's debts. Not much of a man.
     
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  8. wgabrie

    wgabrie Well-Known Member Donor

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    Oh, no that's terrible. I thought that people with medical debt that they can't pay could get rid of that medical debt by declaring bankruptcy?

    If they can't? That's a horrible system. This is another reason for health insurance for all.
     

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