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South Carolinans take note: medical debt's aggressive tactics

One of the most common, and many times unavoidable, types of debt is medical debt. Illness can strike at any time and without warning -- sometimes with dire financial consequences. While the majority of South Carolina residents go to great lengths to pay their medical debt, sometimes people struggle to make ends meet. A hospital in another state is finding itself in hot water after apparently harassing patients for money and inferring they wouldn't receive treatment if they didn't pay.

Serious consequences for the hospital could result from these alleged actions, including removal from both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The hospital has been under watch since April. The state's attorney general released a lengthy report detailing hospital employee's tactics against patients, including demanding payment before treatments occurred and requesting money from bedridden patients. Patients at the hospital reportedly believed that they would be denied treatment if they refused to pay up front or settle any prior medical debt.

From the report, the hospital appears to be in violation of federal law that bars refusal to treat patients who may not be able to pay for their treatments. Apparent outrage was immediate after the report was issued, leading to the federal government issuing new regulations concerning medical debt collection. It also prompted the American Hospital Association to issue new guidelines for its billing and medical debt collection practices. The debt collection company that was involved with the hospital has agreed to leave the state for a period up to six years and pay over $2 million dollars to settle a lawsuit filed by the state's attorney general, who happens to also be the author of the report.

This case is an example of the government's commitment to ensuring that medical debts are properly handled and collected, and that individuals are able to get the treatment that they require. No one should go to the hospital and be in fear of not being treated without the ability to pay upfront. South Carolina residents who struggle with medical debt may want to understand their options for relief. Assistance could be available for people who may be harassed prior to being treated or for those who may have a lengthy stay in a medical facility. When medical debt grows to an overwhelming level, the most financially responsible decision can be to file for personal bankruptcy.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Hospital Debt Collection Harsh Tactics Broke Laws, Report Says," Jeffrey Young, Sept. 14, 2012

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