There have been a lot of reports lately in the mainstream media about healthcare facilities who are being deemed to be too aggressive with their collection efforts because they are suing individuals with unpaid debts. Individuals who became victims of circumstance — let’s face it, nobody can predict an emergency or ask for something bad to happen to themselves — are being left with substantial medical bills either because they do not have insurance or because their insurance is not covering all of their medical bills.
One report (https://features.propublica.org/medical-debt/when-medical-debt-collectors-decide-who-gets-arrested-coffeyville-kansas/?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email) went as far as to suggest that a collection attorney was responsible for sending individuals to jail because those people failed to show up for court-appointed hearings and were found to be in contempt.
There is no doubt that there are many issues with our healthcare system. And there are no easy solutions. This is not a situation that will be fixed in a day or a week. But placing the blame on the facilities and collection agencies working on their behalf is not entirely fair.
In the vast majority of cases, healthcare facilities do not file lawsuits against individuals who have not paid their medical bills. The facilities will attempt to contact the individual, engage in a discussion with that person, and try to figure out a reasonable plan for repaying the debt. Healthcare facilities and collection attorneys will make phone calls and send letters to individuals before deciding to file a lawsuit. Lawsuits are expensive and offer no guarantees of recovering any money. They are an absolute last resort for a healthcare organization that has been repeatedly ignored by the person it is trying to contact.
Where the process breaks down is when individuals do no respond to letters, do not pick up the phone when it rings, and do not return messages from healthcare facilities or collection agencies. Either out of fear or embarrassment, the individuals choose to ignore the problem in the hopes that it will just go away.
Even when a lawsuit is filed, when an individual shows up for his or her hearing, the judge will often urge the two sides to come to some form of arrangement, and they do. Reading the articles, there are plenty of anecdotes from individuals who showed up to court and worked out a payment arrangement. Results that end up in wage garnishments occur when someone does not show up for court.
It can be easy to blame a healthcare facility for filing a lawsuit seeking to recover an unpaid debt from someone who doesn’t have a lot of money. But healthcare facilities rarely, if ever, sue someone who they are communicating with. All the stakeholders must bear their share of the responsibility, or the system will continue to break down.
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