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In Butler County, Mo., the busiest legal docket is the one dealing with medical cases. Every week patients are called to court to defend themselves against high hospital bills. This year Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center has filed more than 1,100 lawsuits for unpaid bills, as reported by The Washington Post.
“I’m hoping to negotiate a payment plan, but I can only afford $20 a month,” one patient told the judge.
Credit reports show that unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of personal debt and bankruptcy in the United States. Patients visiting rural emergency rooms, such as the one at Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, are defaulting on their bills more than ever. Poplar Bluff Regional is the last full-service hospital to care for the surrounding five counties and treats more than 50,000 patients each year. One patient received a medical bill for thousands of dollars for treatment in the emergency room. She had collapsed at work because she was skipping insulin shots to save money.
“I’m trying to make peace with the fact that this debt could sit on me forever,” she told The Washington Post.
A local attorney in town, Daniel Moore, has advised clients to fight the hospital on any charges. When clients started coming to him with bills from the hospital, he decided to represent several patients for free.
After digging into the itemized receipts of one client, Moore found a charge of $800 for 40 seconds with a doctor, $211 for an oxygen sensor on sale for $16 at Walmart, and a $365 “IV Push” for “sticking the needle in that little port and then squeezing it” as Moore put it.
In this instance, the jury found in favor of Moore’s client, but not everyone is so lucky. If you’ve had to face high hospital bills, share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.