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People Are Being Jailed For Unpaid Medical Debts: "I Was Scared To Death"

People Are Being Jailed For Unpaid Medical Debts: "I Was Scared To Death"

Tres Biggs from Coffeyville, Kansas, never thought that he would be imprisoned for not paying his family's medical bills.

Representative Image Source: Getty Images/Chris Ryan

Something as basic as healthcare still remains unaffordable for several people in the country. Despite the lack of health benefits, there are places where individuals are even jailed because they are unable to keep up with the system's demands that end up overburdening their incomes. Exposing this reality, ProPublica reports how a family in Coffeyville, Kansas, was forced to undergo a disturbing ordeal just because they fell behind on their medical bills. Tres and Heather Biggs were devastated when there son Lane was diagnosed with leukemia when he was merely 5-year-old. During the same time, Heather too had suffered seizures from Lyme disease and unsurprisingly had a huge bill to pay off. 



 

 

"We had so many — multiple health issues in our family at the same time, it put us in a bracket that made insurance unattainable," explained Heather, according to CBS News. "It would have made no sense. We would have had to have not eaten, not had a home." Despite working two jobs Tres was unable to keep up with the mounting medical bill and eventually fell behind. What happened next was unthinkable, to say the least. "You wouldn't think you'd go to jail over medical bills," expressed Tres.



 

 

Describing the experience as scary, Tres revealed how he was sent to prison for failing to appear in court for the unpaid medical bills. "I was scared to death. I'm a country kid — I had to strip down, get hosed and put a jumpsuit on." Unfortunately, his family had around $50 to $100, which was nowhere near the $500 charge to bail him out. The poverty rate in rural Coffeyville, Kansas, is twice the national average and despite that harsh penalties are levied on families who are already struggling to survive. 

Representative Image Source: Getty Images

 

Contrary to the residents who are unable to afford the rising cost of medical care, attorneys like Michael Hassenplug seem to be thriving by representing medical providers to obtain the debt owned by their neighbors. "I'm just doing my job," says Hassenplug of his successful law practice. "They want the money collected, and I'm trying to do my job as best I can by following the law." This is the same law that was put in place by Hassenplug's own recommendation to the local judge. Using that law the attorney asks the court to guide individuals with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months and declare they can't afford to pay it as a part of a "debtors exam."

Representative Image Source: Getty Images

 

In the event of them missing two hearings, the judge issues an arrest warrant for being in contempt of the court. Once arrested, the bail was set at $500. Apparently, Hassenplug gets "paid on what's collected" and if the bail money is applied to the judgment, he gets a slice of that as well. "We're sending them to jail for contempt of court for failure to appear," added Hassenplug. According to CBS News, the amount charged for bail is usually returned when the defendant appears in court. However, that's something that happens in most cases, not in Coffeyville where most of the time the money goes to pay off attorneys like Hassenplug and towards the medical debts his clients are supposed to get. 

Representative Image Source: Getty Images

 

Expressing their concern in the matter, Nusrat Choudhury, the deputy director of the ACLU, said, "This raises serious constitutional concerns. What's happening here is a jailhouse shake-down for cash that is the criminalization of private debt." Despite obvious objections from families there, this foul practice continues to wreak havoc in their lives. 

Disclaimer : This is based on sources and we have been unable to verify this information independently.

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