Lawsuit, arrest, jail: How one city in Kansas handles medical debt scofflaws

A recent ProPublica report sheds light on people in the U.S. who end up arrested and jailed because they owe medical debt and don't show up in court.

While this happens across the country, the nonprofit newsroom spotlights  Coffeyville, Kan. ProPublica reporter Lizzie Presser, who talked to patients and interviewed those who had filed lawsuits against them, found more than 30 arrest warrants issued against people in Coffeyville over medical debt, and at least 11 people had been jailed in the last year.

Patients who are sued there by the local hospital, physicians, or an ambulance service over medical debt and summoned to court can be arrested and jailed if they don't come to court and face their debt collector, according to ProPublica.

The website reported that one debt collector asked defendants with unpaid medical bills to list what they earned and owned as the collector weighed options such as setting up a payment plan or garnishing wages.

If people with medical debt don't show up to this "debtor's exam," they may be cited for contempt of court, and if a hearing on contempt is missed, the debt collector can ask the judge to issue a warrant to arrest the debtor.

If a debtor is arrested and posts bail, a collector working on commission gets part of the bail money, the website reported.

Read the full ProPublica report here.

 

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