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Medical debt collectors investigated for violations

Medical debt is one of the most common forms of financial stress for consumers in Tennessee and nationwide. Even with health insurance, families can suffer unmanageable debt after an unexpected illness or injury. Hospitals and medical service providers will often turn these debts over to medical collections companies.

Now Congress is investigating the practices of a medical debt collector for violating a law that requires hospitals to provide emergency care regardless of citizenship, legal status or the ability to pay.

Representatives have been alarmed by alleged tactics of demanding patients pay outstanding balances before receiving treatment. For the millions of Americans who are unable to pay off debt, this could mean discrimination when seeking medical treatment. Doctors also believed that many patients were discouraged from seeking medical treatment because of unfair debt collection practices and harassment in the emergency room.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, patients cannot be refused treatment because of an inability to pay or because of outstanding debts. There was evidence that the agency violated collection practices laws by embedding employees in emergency rooms and harassing patients for payment before receiving treatment. The company has also been accused of violating privacy laws in their debt collection practices.

Often families go into debt after an illness or injury. Even though medical debts are often unmanageable, debts should not prevent future medical treatment in the event of an emergency. If you are overwhelmed by medical debts, you may be eligible for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Source: The New York Times, "In Congress, a Move to Look Into a Medical Debt Collector," Jessica Silver-Greenberg, April 26, 2012.

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