County In Rural Kansas Is Jailing People Over Unpaid Medical Debt In A Very Sneaky Way

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Heather and Tres Biggs. CBS NEWS

The United States is a country that offers citizens healthcare options, at a cost. Over the years, healthcare in America has become more and more unreasonable in regards to costs. The extremely ridiculous high cost of insurance is the root cause of millions of American’s not holding any type of health insurance at all.

A recent poll finds 90% of those surveyed agreed on the importance of making health care more affordable.

As if the high cost of health insurance isn’t enough of a burden on working class families, now, some people are being jailed over unpaid medical debt.

Tres and Heather Biggs’ son Lane was diagnosed with leukemia when he was five years old. At the same time, Heather suffered seizures from Lyme disease.

The couple tell CBS News:

“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, but still fell behind on their medical bills. Then something unimaginable happened.

Tres Biggs went to jail for failing to appear in court for unpaid medical bills. “I was scared to death — I’m a country kid,” Tres Biggs said. “I’m a country kid  — I had to strip down, get hosed and put a jumpsuit on.”

Bail was set at $500, but the Biggs only had $50 to $100 in their bank account at the time.

Heather and Tres Biggs. CBS NEWS

In rural Coffeyville, Kansas, where the poverty rate is twice the national average, attorneys like Michael Hassenplug have built successful law practices representing medical providers to collect debt owed by their neighbors.

“I’m just doing my job,” Hassenplug said. “They want the money collected, and I’m trying to do my job as best I can by following the law.”

That law was put in place at Hassenplug’s own recommendation to the local judge. The attorney uses that law by asking the court to direct people with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months and state they are too poor to pay in what is called a “debtors exam.”

If two hearings are missed, the judge issues an arrest warrant for contempt of court. Bail is set at $500.

Hassenplug gets paid a portion of what is collection and if the bail is rolled into that collection amount, he gets a cut of that too.

Hassenplug defends his ‘legal’ yet some what immoral actions by saying that the court is jailing people for failure to appear in court or contempt of court.

When one truly thinks about this situation, one can come to the conclusion that if someone is falling behind on their medical bills and can’t afford a $25 payment, they are more than likely not going to be able to afford a $500 cash bail.

Nusrat Choudhury, the deputy director of the ACLU had this to say about the situation and it makes perfect sense : “What’s happening here is a jailhouse shake-down for cash that is the criminalization of private debt.”