Saturday, May 12, 2012

Disturbing Debt Collectors

The old saw goes that you can't get blood from a stone.

Yet, unscrupulous debt collectors seem to be trying to do that more than ever, reality be damned. You have to wonder how the worst of them can sleep at night.

The problem is getting more outrageous, if you believe several media reports. Some debt collectors hang out in hospitals, lurking in emergency rooms to grab people there for, well, emergencies, and demand payment for past hospital visits.
In the hospital: Pay now, sucker.  

Or they call up debtors and and threaten bodily harm it they don't pay, dammit. or in at least one case, threaten to dig up a woman's deceased daughter from the grave.

Before we go on, of course I realize that people should pay their debts to the best of their ability. And I'm pretty sure most debt collectors follow the letter of the law, and are often frustrated by people trying to avoid their obligations.

However, sometimes people simply can't pay their bills. The money just isn't there. But that's not going to stop some gung-ho debt collectors from trying to grab money from them anyway. Hey, we're a country of strivers, achievers, and we can get the impossible done, right?

And apparently, some debt collectors believe that nothing is more important than collecting some bucks from these almost penniless people, even if it means they live in fear, or don't go to see doctors when their sick and just die. Or maybe mentally torturing people is an effective way to get them to pay up, at least in the minds of some of these sickos.

In a New York Times article last month, one debt collector told a woman who could not pay for her daughter's funeral expenses that maybe they'd dig up the daughter and hang her body from a tree by the woman's house.

Another debt collector called a woman whose two sons died within a week of each other and hadn't paid the funeral expenses. They asked her how she'd feel if they dug the sons up and left them at her doorstep.

Charming, no?

It gets worse. The Minnesota Attorney General, among others, have said some debt collectors and "consultants" have gone to patients in emergency rooms and elsewhere in hospitals, demanding payments for past debts, or for bills the patients hadn't received yet.

And, um, said patients had arrived at the hospital because they were sick and in no condition to deal with bill collections.  But we can't let that stop us, can we?

According to a report by Maura Lerner in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the worst offender was an outfit called Accretive Health, who either lurked in hospitals or enlisted hospital staff to try and collect the cash.

The Minnesota A.G., Lori Swanson said the hospital dunning "practically amounted to a threat to withhold medical treatment."

According to the account in the Star Tribune:

If a patient balked at making a payment, hospital employees were given scripts by Accretive to wear down their resistance: "We really DO need to collect your co-pay/co-insurance/deductible today." The implication, Swanson argued, is that patient care would suffer if they didn't pay up.

Some patients might have fled the hospital rather than deal with the bill collectors:

In several cases, patients walked out of the hospital without being registered, Swanson reported. At least one large employer threatened to leave the Fairview system if it kept demanding credit card payments before treatment.

That's one way to hold down health care costs. Just make people too afraid to go to the hospital, where they might have to face bill collectors. They can stay home and die, thereby sparing us the cost of treating poor people, right?

The hospital chain, Fairviewwhich hired Accretive later admitted the company made mistakes that infuriated patients and hospital employees. Fairview withdrew its links with Accretive, according ot the Star Tribune.

Accretive defends its actions. In a statement, the company said "We are proud of what we do.. Patients appreciate the education, expertise and compassion that we provide."

Oh. Well, I suppose they do have expertise in trying to get money from people.

Look, I don't have the answers on how to equitably pay for health care. The country's been debating that for decades with no clear answers. The debate will surely go on for a long time.

But really, lurking in hospitals demanding money from sick patients?  Tormenting mothers who've lost their kids? There's really got to be a better way, no?


  1. For me debt collectors only doing their job but still some of them are very disgusting for harassing and threatening us if we did not pay.

  2. Some debt collectors are disturbing and aggressive. They can go to any extent to collect debts from the debtors. They can hurl abuses, threaten bodily harm, call at midnight, etc. Several consumers get harassed by the debt collectors every day. As such, it is very important to be aware of consumer rights and the collection laws. Consumers need to fight with the debt collectors in every possible way. Then only they can teach the debt collectors to restrain themselves.