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TN Court Offers Online Negotiation for People with Medical Debt

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People who have medical debt or trouble paying medical bills are more likely to have continued health issues, from high blood pressure and mental health concerns to a shorter life expectancy.(Adobe Stock)
People who have medical debt or trouble paying medical bills are more likely to have continued health issues, from high blood pressure and mental health concerns to a shorter life expectancy.(Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
June 7, 2021

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A court in Hamilton County has set up a new pilot program, giving people with unpaid medical bills an option to negotiate online to resolve disputes without having to enter a courtroom.

Advocates of the Online Medical Debt Resolution platform say it's intended to provide a less intimating venue for anyone with this type of debt to receive assistance.

Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Alexander McVeagh said most cases are settled by default judgement, which means the debt collector can begin garnishing wages.

"Debt ends up kind of spiraling out of control, and it does so very quickly," said McVeagh. "And it affects all ages, all races, all socioeconomic classes. This is something that everyone can identify with."

He explained that individuals can register on the program's website and send a message to the hospital before a lawsuit is filed.

They'll receive a message from a representative, beginning a conversation in which strategies - from payment plans to adjusted pricing - can be worked out.

According to the insurance website QuoteWizard, Tennessee is one of the states with the highest rates of per-capita medical debt in the nation.

According to a Sycamore Institute report, bill collectors can use a number of tools to recoup settlement money - in some cases, even seizing a person's home.

McVeagh said the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to provide licensed mediators, who can step in as a third party to help resolve disputes on the online platform. And he stressed the messaging system is not intended for debt collectors to go after individuals.

"Because the last thing that we want is to create this tool, this additional debt collection tool, for a hospital," said McVeagh.

McVeagh said the court is collecting data to gauge how successful the portal is in helping to resolve cases before they get to court. He also predicted cases involving medical debt will continue to climb in the coming years, as a result of the pandemic.


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