A new investigation reveals that medical debt
collectors are getting judges to issue warrants for sick people who are too poor to pay off
medical bills. RTs Brigida Santos joins me now from Los Angeles
with more. So Brigida, tell me about this investigation. You know, where did it take place and what
did you learn? Well, this investigation was conducted out
of Coffeyville, Kansas and it was published by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica. It reveals how medical debt collectors are
basically telling judges who to send to jail for the crime of being too poor to pay medical
bills. And here’s how it works. Defendants appear in court to testify to their
poverty in what’s known as a debtor’s exam. They do this in front of a debt collector
and a judge. That debt collector usually works on behalf
of a hospital or a group of doctors or ambulance services and they present the defendant with
their options. The defendant can agree to a payment plan
to have their wages or bank accounts garnished or to have a lien placed on their property. Now if defendants do not show up to any of
these debtors exams, the debt collector can then ask the judge to issue a warrant so that
that debtor ends up in jail. And that’s what often happens. So medical debt in America is obviously a
huge problem. So what kind of people typically get sued
by these medical businesses? I mean, all kinds of people get sued and arrested
over medical debt. In Coffeyville, for example, there was a pregnant
woman who was arrested for missing a debt collection hearing regarding a $230 radiology
bill that she had not paid. There was a father of a son, of a boy who
had leukemia. Now he was arrested for being too to pay,
too poor to pay off his son’s medical bills. And this list goes on. Some of these people are incredibly sick and
it happens all over the country. Meanwhile, debt collectors are profiting. In Coffeyville, one debt collector who was
interviewed said that he charges his clients a commission rate of one third of all the
money that he collects. Now some of that commission can even come
from a defendant’s cash bail, which is absolutely crazy. Now in America, debt collection is an $11
billion industry with medical debt accounting for almost half of all total debt payments
collected each year. Medical debt is usually taken on by consumers
without any knowledge of the actual costs because our medical system is not transparent,
people often don’t know what they’re going to be paying until they get that bill. And consumers often take on this debt knowingly
because their lives depend on getting these treatments. But debtors’ prisons here in the United States,
those were outlawed long ago and the Supreme Court has ruled them unconstitutional. So in this particular circumstance, where’s
the oversight? There really isn’t much oversight. Now, the modern day debtor’s prison lives
on, and we’ve talked about this on this show before, because judges can incarcerate defendants
for failing to appear in court by charging them with contempt or by ruling that a defendant
is purposely not paying the debt rather than being legitimately too poor to pay it. And many judges themselves don’t even have
a law degree. Judge Casement was a cattle rancher. He was appointed a magistrate judge even though
he’d never previously taken law courses and this is perfectly legal because Kansas does
not require magistrate judges to have college degrees, and other States have very similar
rules. So there really isn’t much oversight. Absolutely unbelievable. Brigida Santos, thank you very much for telling
us this story today. Thanks.