Abusive and Illegal Debt Collection Practices lead to Federal Lawsuit...

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When lack of insurance or low income prevents payment of medical bills, patients can find themselves tied up in a lawsuit.

In St. Joseph, those on the receiving end of that litigation complain of the treatment they've received from a collection agency for Heartland Health. The issue has led to a federal lawsuit claiming that Heartland is in violation of Fair Debt Collections Act.

Three former patients, though not involved in the pending federal lawsuit, know what it's like to fight illness one day and fight a collection agency the next. They described the experience as stressful and frustrating.

"They'd call you at least 14 times a day, all the way up to 10 at night," Tammy Wells said of Heartland's collection agency.

Ms. Wells said she and her husband, Kevin, have accrued about $3,000 in medical expenses from when she gave birth to her daughter and from repeat visits when her child was sick. Before her court date, Ms. Wells said she got a bill for those expenses in the mail at least every three weeks and received phone calls more frequently than that.

Ms. Wells, who said personal bankruptcy is a possibility, said the family often feels harassed by the debt collectors, especially because additional bills sometimes come for amounts that have already been paid.

"They want their money before we put food on the table," Mr. Wells said.

A top official with Heartland Health said turning a patient over to the collection agency, known as Northwest Financial Services, is a last resort that comes after several unsuccessful attempts at contacting the patient to work out a payment solution. If the hospital didn't collect some of its unpaid bills, more of the cost would be shifted to patients who do pay, said John Wilson, chief financial officer for Heartland. MORE


NM settles with Illinois debt collection company

AP/ALBUQUERQUE - The New Mexico attorney general's office has reached a settlement with an Illinois debt collection company.

The state sued Chicago-based Merchants' Credit Guide Company in August 2007, alleging the company tried to collect debts that were legally unenforceable because the statute of limitations had run out.

The lawsuit sought a judge's order requiring the company to tell people that debts in which time had run out could not be enforced in any court. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to do so.

For more information on abusive and illegal debt collection practices and your rights under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act see a few earlier blogs:

Debt Collectors Gone Wild

How to deal with abusive Debt Collectors -Do you Know your Rights?

Appeals Court Rules Aggressive Debt Collector Violates Consumer Rights

Lawsuits Filed against Debt Collection & Debt Resolution Company

For much more information, news of recently filed lawsuits, tips and debt collection rights visit Attorneys John Watts & Stan Herring's informative  Law Blog

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