Online Medical Debt Consultation Offered By Hamilton County Court

Photo: Judge Alex McVeagh

Photo Credit: TNCourts / YouTube

Published June 8, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Hamilton County, TN – A court in Hamilton County has set up a new program that will allow those with unpaid medical bills to negotiate online instead of in a courtroom. The pilot program, Online Medical Debt Resolution, was created to resolve medical debt before a court filing.

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According to the Online Resolution page, “not every case will be resolved before a court filing, resolving these cases directly or via the help of a mediator is convenient for all parties, saving time, travel, and easing communications.”

Most cases are currently settled by default judgment, according to Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge Alexander McVeagh. Once this is done, debt collectors are able to garnish wages.

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

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Individuals have the option to register through the program and message the hospital before any lawsuit is filed. A representative then gets in touch to come up with strategies for repayment.

A report from the Sycamore Institute said bill collectors are able to do a few things in order to collect repayment for medical bills, up to seizing the individual’s home.

The Tennessee Supreme Court will be providing licensed mediators who will have the ability to act as a third party.

McVeagh also said the Online Resolution Program will not be able to be used by debt collectors.

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

According to QuoteWizard, an insurance website, Tennessee has one of the “highest rates of per-capita medical debt in the nation.”

Currently, the court is collecting the needed data and information to see how good the program is at resolving medical debt cases before they reach court. McVeagh has also said medical debt cases are likely to rise in the next few years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a recent report, QuoteWizard found that almost 80 million Americans are burdened by medical debt.

“The median medical debt in collections ranges from around $450 in Hawaii to over $1,500 in Wyoming,” QuoteWizard said.

In 42 states, they found residents were putting at least 10% of their income towards paying out-of-pocket medical bills.

In Tennessee, 20.5% of residents have medical debt, and 14.7% of those do not have insurance. The average medical debt that gets sent to collection agencies is $996.

“In 2005, 34% of people said they were struggling to pay off their medical bills. Now, 41% of people say they are struggling with medical debt,” the report from QuoteWizard reads. “Exact amounts vary by state, but we found the median medical debt in collections ranges from around $450 in Hawaii to over $1,500 in Wyoming.”

In order to use the Online Medical Debt Resolution Program, users must be at least 18 with an email address and access to the internet.

They must also, “live, work, or have a medical debt dispute arising in Hamilton County, Tennessee.”

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