In Kansas, One County Is Jailing People Who Can’t Afford Their Medical Bills
In rural Coffeyville, Kansas, where the poverty rate is twice the national average, people are being jailed because they cannot afford their medical bills, according to CBS News.
Tres and Heather Biggs’ son Lane was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 5 years old. Heather suffered seizures from Lyme disease at the same time.
“We had so many -- multiple health issues in our family at the same time, it put us in a bracket that made insurance unattainable,” Heather Biggs said. “It would have made no sense. We would have had to have not eaten, not had a home.”
Tres Biggs was working two jobs when they fell behind on their medical bills. He was subsequently jailed for failing to appear in court.
“I was scared to death,” Tres Biggs said. “I’m a country kid -- I had to strip down, get hosed, and put a jumpsuit on.”
Attorneys like Michael Hassenplug have built successful law practices representing medical providers to collect debt owed by people like the Biggs.
“I’m just doing my job. They want the money collected, and I’m trying to do my job as best I can by following the law,” Hassenplug said.
Yet, Hassenplug recommended the law, which directs people with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months and state they are too poor to pay, to be put in place by a local judge. If two hearings are missed, the judge issues an arrest warrant for contempt of court with bail set at $500.
“This raises serious constitutional concerns,” said Nusrat Choudhury, the deputy director of the ACLU. “What’s happening here is a jailhouse shake-down for cash that is the criminalization of private debt.”