If you clicked on this article, you're not alone. About 1 in 5 Americans have medical debt they are struggling to pay. The good news is you have very good options you probably do not know about.
1. Apply for Hospital Financial Assistance: Many large hospitals are required by state and federal law to reduce the costs to patients for any out-of-pocket costs. This can often apply regardless of whether you have insurance. Call the hospital and ask how you apply for financial assistance. However, hospitals often do not properly calculate your income, often misinterpret the law or their own policy, and regularly do not offer people the full reduction they are legally entitled to. If you wish to apply for hospital financial assistance, or already have, we recommend you schedule a free consultation with an attorney at Navigate to make sure you are granted the full reduction.
2. Seek assistance from nonprofits: There are nonprofit organizations that exist solely to help people pay for medical debt. Full disclosure, I sit on the board of directors for the non-profit I'm about to recommend. A great non-profit that does this for people in the Pacific Northwest is Dollar For Portland.
3. Do not ignore it: Many people have an "out of site, out of mind" attitude towards debt. This can only get you so far. Hospitals routinely contract with collection firms and turn over accounts after a certain amount of time. If a collector calls you who is not an employee of the hospital they will likely file a lawsuit against you to collect the debt (and possibly soon!) This can hurt your credit, result in your bank account or wages being garnished, and cause you an immense amount of stress. It also can make it more difficult to take advantage of any hospital financial assistance program that may be available.
Medical debt feels unfair. You didn't ask for it, you weren't being irresponsible - it just happened to you. The good news is there are options. I've developed a unique practice in working with clients who have medical debt to find a solution that they can afford and feel good about. If you have medical debt and would like to schedule a free consultation you can email Eli Marchbanks, Navigate's consumer protection and medical debt lawyer at email@example.com or call at (360) 205-2256.
You've probably heard by now about the Equifax data breach. Equifax is one of three major credit reporting agencies in the country. Every time someone runs a credit check on you, they are very likely looking at information Equifax has compiled about you. This company holds an immense amount of data on hundreds of millions of Americans. 143 million people had their information stolen in a recent Equifax security breach. If you are one of these people, this could include your address, date of birth, banking information, social security number, and other sensitive information. To find out if Equifax thinks your information was stolen you can find out here. If your information is out there, it will likely be out there for a long time. Identity theft can follow people for years. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
The most drastic step is called a "credit freeze." This is when you have a security pin that you use to "freeze" and "unfreeze" your credit. You would have to unfreeze it every time you want to open up a new line of credit, which can be very cumbersome, time-consuming, and often is attached to a fee.
This option requires anyone who wants to open up a line of credit for you to contact you via the method you indicate. For example, if someone takes your name, date of birth, and social security number to CapitalOne and tries to get a credit card, you could require CapitalOne to call your cell phone and confirm that you are actually the one trying to open up a line of credit. When you file a fraud alert you can also get a free credit report to see if there is has been any fraudulent activity. This option is free, but only lasts for 90 days. However, if you have evidence that someone has already committed fraud using your identity then you can get an extended fraud alert which lasts for 7 years.
Eli Marchbanks is Navigate Law Group's consumer protection lawyer. If you want more information on either of these options, or need assistance going through the process, he can be reached by phone at (360) 205-2256 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a national study on the state of medical debt in America. The findings were shocking. Approximately 26% of Americans have medical debt they are struggling to pay. For many people the debt is affecting every aspect of their lives. 70% of respondents with debt reported having to cut back spending on food, clothing, or other basic household items because of their debt. What's worse is many people do not know if their hospital provides financial assistance.
Federal and state law require many hospitals to provide services at a drastically reduced rate for people who qualify. Washington law even requires hospitals to tell people about these laws (which they often do not). Still, 47% of respondents to the Kaiser survey had no idea if their hospital offered reduced fees. Many people who qualify never learn about the programs. Even worse, many people who do learn of these programs are improperly denied by the hospital. These are real laws that have real teeth if the hospitals do not strictly honor them.
Eli Marchbanks is Navigate Law Group's medical debt attorney. He will provide a fee consultation to look at your situation and tell you if he thinks you qualify for reduced medical bills. Even if you have already overpaid, he may be able to get your money back from the hospital. Further, he structures his fee so he does not get paid unless he reduces your medical bills.
To set up a free consultation call Eli at (360) 205-2256 or email email@example.com.
According to the Spokesman-Review, on June 12 a lawsuit was filed against Deaconess and Valley hospitals in Spokane for failure to comply with the Washington Charity Care Act. The article indicates that people who make up to 100% of the poverty line are entitled to free health care at major hospitals in Washington, and people who make up to 200% of the poverty line are entitled to substantial discounts. While this is true, the article leaves out the fact that Washington law is much more robust than that. In many instances, people with a household income below 400% of the poverty line are entitled to a substantial reduction in their medical bills. To put this in perspective, a household of 4 could make over $97,000 per year and still qualify for a reduced bill.
Not every person in Washington is entitled to reduced medical bills, and not every hospital in Washington must offer a reduction in cost. However, in 2015 $532 million worth of Washington hospital revenue was from reduced fee billings. As the Spokane lawsuit estimates, this is in light of the fact that many hospitals do not make it easy for people to learn about the laws or get a reduction when they qualify. There are likely thousands or tens of thousands of people in Washington with medical debt who are entitled to a substantial reduction.
At Navigate, we can help you determine if you qualify for a reduced fee and assert your rights if you do. If you think you may qualify for reduced medical debt you should contact an attorney.
Eli Marchbanks, Medical Debt Attorney
In a recent New York Times article, the Times reported what we have known at Navigate Law Group for quite some time - debt collection agencies make critical mistakes very often. According to a report by the United States Public Interest Research Group, medical debt is the second largest cause of complaints about debt collectors to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 63% of complaints allege that the collection efforts are for a deb that was never owed in the first place, has already been paid, or the collector cannot verify it is owed. This is nearly two-thirds of collection efforts for medical debt in the country! The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Washington Consumer Protection Act provide people with some protection against these types of collection practices. Washington also has strong laws that protect consumers with medical debt. Even if you owe the medical debt in Washington a Navigate Law Group attorney may be able to help you drastically reduce the amount of that debt depending on your income at the time of your hospital stay and the hospital you went to. If you have Washington medical bills contact attorney Eli Marchbanks at (360) 205-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits specific forms of communication by debt collectors. Specifically, debt collectors cannot contact debtors via post card. This is a bit out-dated as the law does not specifically address more common forms of communication like text message and social media. While the FDCPA does not explicitly address these types of communication, text message and social media communication make it difficult for debt collectors to be in compliance with other portions of the FDCPA.
One example is providing appropriate disclosures. Section 807(11) of the FDCPA requires the first communication by a debt collector to identify (1) that they are a collector, (2) that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt, and (3) that any information obtained will be used for that purpose. This is difficult to do is a text message, and there have been recent instances in which collectors who use text message did not comply with that requirement.
Another requirement of the FDCPA is that collectors cannot reveal the existence of a debt to a third party. Many communications via social media are view-able by third parties. If a collector published a communication on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed it would likely be in violation of the FDCPA. Further, debt collectors must not use deceptive trade practices, so "friending" you under a fake Facebook account could likely be a violation as well.
Every violation of the FDCPA carries with it the possibility of damages up to $1,000 and mandatory attorney's fees. This means that if the debt collector violates an applicable provision of the FDCPA, they may have to pay you a fee and they will have to cover the cost of your lawyer. If you think a debt collector has violated the FDCPA contact Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group by phone or email at (360) 205-2256 or email@example.com to set up a free consultation.
The most recent data by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that debt collection agencies are not honoring the rules in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the Washington Collection Agencies Act. The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) recently reported some of the CFPB's findings:
If you have been contacted by a debt collector and think they may have violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or Washington Collection Agency Act, Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group may be able to defend you at no charge to you. Call or email him at (360) 205-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation.
An estimated 53% of debt collection efforts have a major error such as they are for the wrong person, the wrong amount, or the debt is not even owed! This shows that the debt collection industry is far from perfect and collection agencies often make mistakes. Just because you receive a demand from a collector does not mean you should automatically pay. If you think the debt collector has made a mistake you should make sure that is known. Regardless of whether you think the collector has made a mistake or not, the following rules likely apply to the debt collector. The following rules only apply to collection agencies – not the originally creditor. If a debt collector violated one of these rules, Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group may be able to take your case at no charge to you:
There are many laws governing debt collectors and this list is far from complete. There are many rights you have that protect you from harassing, unfair, or unsavory collection efforts. If a debt collector violates just one of these laws under state or federal law, you may be entitled to relief of your obligation to pay, additional damages, and/or to have the collection agency pay for your attorney.
If you think you have been subject to unfair collection efforts by a collection agency in Washington or Oregon call Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group today for a free consultation. Eli can be reached at (360) 205-2256 and email@example.com.
My wife and I recently took a ten day trip to Kaua’i. Before our flight, we snagged a carry-on bag full of books to read on hammocks and beaches in the South Pacific. Kat is usually the one devoting her free time to being entertained by legal-based entertainment (see, The Good Wife). I usually get my fill of these things during the work day. However, in the basement of Eclipse Books, the best used book store in book-loving Bellingham, Washington, amongst the Captain Cook journals and field guides to Hawaiian flora and fauna, was a nonfiction crime procedural about Hawaii that I couldn’t resist. It’s called Honor Killing: How the Infamous “Massie Affair” Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard (New York, New York: Viking Penguin, 2005). It tells the story of a racially-charged murder trial in 1932 Hawai’i that captured the attention of the world, and was also the last notable mark in the career of Clarence Darrow, who many consider to be the best trial attorney in American history. I had never heard of it, and I was intrigued. Honor Killing is compulsive reading and highly relevant to our times.
The story is set in 1930’s Hawai’i, a remote American “territory” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In the American consciousness, Hawai’i evokes (well-deserved) images of tropical paradise – verdant mountain valleys, blue waters, waves, ukuleles, peace. But the history of Hawai’i, as most know, is more complicated. By the 1930’s, Hawai’i already had a long history of colonialism, including Western missionary and corporate influence over the native Hawai’ian population. As Kennard puts it, “[F]or the first half of the twentieth century, most of those famously friendly and multihued people of paradise lived under the authoritarian rule of an openly white supremacist oligarchy.” Walter Dillingham, perhaps the most prominent American businessman in Hawai’i at the time, testified before Congress that “God had made the white race to rule and the colored be ruled. It was as plain as ‘the pigment in the skin,’ he said, adding that when a white man is ‘asked to go out in the sun and work in the canebrake, away from the tropical breeze, you are subjecting [him] to something that the good Lord did not create him to do.” Yeah.
Enter Thalia Massie. She was the young wife of a US Naval officer stationed at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Thommie Massie. Thalia’s family had East Coast, upper-class pedigree, with blood connections to former US president Theodore Roosevelt. Tommie was from Kentucky. Both were white. “By 1930 the island of O’ahu was home to the greatest concentration of American soldiers and sailors anywhere … virtually all of them white.” In contrast, “[t]he overwhelming majority of the population was nonwhite, Asian or Hawaiian, as was the entirety of the low-paid workforce laboring in the fields of the sprawling sugar and pineapple plantations.”
On September 12, 1931, at approximately 12:50 am, a Saturday night, a group of friends noticed a woman wander into their headlights on the outskirts of Waikiki. It was Thalia. She had been at a nightclub party in the area earlier in the evening with Thommie. After telling multiple versions of her story to whoever would listen, she eventually alleged that she had been kidnapped, physically abused and repeatedly raped by “five or six Hawaiian boys.” It did not take long for the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) investigation, led by an Irish-born haole (Hawaiian slang for “white,” or “outsider”) detective and supported by his hand-picked haole officers, to find some “Hawaiian boys” to charge with the crime.
The story exploded in the American press and beyond. In the New York Times, more than 200 stories were run about the case in the spring of 1932 alone. “In a twelve-month period that witnessed the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the transatlantic flight of Amelia Earhart, the Veterans’ Bonus March on Washington, the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the imprisonment of Al Capone, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the worst days of the Great Depression,” the Massie trial “was voted by Associated Press editors one of the top world news events of the year.” From coast to coast, major newspapers, almost without exception, rushed to the defense of Thalia with warnings that the “honor of American womanhood” was under attack by “lust-sodden beasts.” These contrasted with typical descriptions of Thalia as a “white woman of refinement and culture.” The journal of the California Bar Association, the Recorder, claimed that “a mongrel race now threatens white supremacy.”
The actual trial exposed much of the real story, including a complete lack of medical evidence that a rape had even occurred, police officers being caught red-handed planting evidence, a lie from Thalia that she had become pregnant as a result of the “incident” (which her doctors knew to be false), and wild inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. There were also some masterful trial maneuvers by the impressive defense team, if you’re into that kind of thing. The jury was hung at 6-6 and a mistrial was declared. Seemingly, the justice system had done its job, but this was just the beginning of the story.
Immediately, the military community and the American press expressed outrage at the lack of conviction. Street violence and tension began to rise between the US Military and the local Hawaiians. Admiral Stirling, the highest ranking US military person in Hawaii at the time, called the unconvicted defendants a “contamination” who “were not men who deserved the benefit of the doubt.” Stirling insisted that the Navy’s shore patrol be given authority to “shoot to kill without being tried for murder.” Dillingham, the business tycoon, admitted that the defendants “probably were not guilty” but the authorities nevertheless “should have forced a conviction.” General George S. Patton (then an Army Major) wrote to his friend: “It seems to me that what the Honolulu Rapers need is some quick hangings. It is better for a few inoscent [sic] natives to hang than for the reputation of a great City to suffer.” Large parts of the haole community were crying for a good, old-fashioned lynching. And that is exactly what happened.
Instead of waiting for a second trial, a roving band of navymen kidnapped Horace Ida, one of the defendants, and beat him to the brink of death on a seaslide cliff, allegedly torturing a “confession” out of him and leaving him for dead. Miraculously, he recovered. Thalia’s mother, who seemed to make racism into an Olympic sport, along with Thalia, Thommie, and a sailor who had been sent ashore to “stand guard” for Thalia, plotted the murder of Joseph Kahahawai, the darkest-skinned of the defendants. They impersonated law enforcement officers in order to kidnap him, shot him in a private location, and were caught by HPD officers with his body in their backseat while they attempted to dispose of it in a lava tube off the coast of O’ahu. They were charged with first-degree murder, eventually downgraded to second-degree murder and manslaughter. Thalia’s mother openly admitted to the crime in interviews with newspapers prior to trial and the defendants were whisked away by the Navy to be held in luxuriant quarters on the top deck of a Navy ship, where they were widely praised by the American media as heroes and sent flowers.
Enter Clarence Darrow. Darrow was the darling of the American left – friends with anarchist Emma Goldman and labor advocate Samuel Gompers. At the time, he sat on the Board of Directors for the NAACP. However, he was also short on money late in his life and was offered a sizable sum to come defend the white lynchers, so he did. Amazingly, the defendants were actually convicted. The jury, in a compromise to prevent a hung jury where an obvious crime had been committed, settled on a conviction for mere manslaughter. Predictably, this shocked the US military, the haole community as a whole, Darrow himself, and the defendants. It carried a mandatory minimum sentence in Hawaiian prison of ten years. But not to be outdueled by pesky things like “due process,” the military and economic power set in Hawaii applied pressure to the judge to reduce their sentences, which he did. They were ordered to serve one hour detention in the sheriff’s office. By the time this was announced to the waiting press, there were only twenty minutes left of their “sentence.” Darrow and the defendants were snuck off the island in a Navy boat to a vessel bound for San Francisco, where they were received with fanfare and became national celebrities (Darrow, twice-over).
The whole Massie affair was a tragedy of the American justice system, played out before a watching world. The Hawaii-Chinese News called out the American hypocrisy, contrasting the “stupid mob mind” with “the American principle that a man is innocent until he has been proved guilty.” It was open warfare between the white supremacist, military-economic power brokers and our country’s founding principles of due process of law. The whole affair changed Hawaii permanently. Kennard describes “the new interracial consciousness” of Hawaii in the aftermath of the Massie trial. The historically self-interested ethnic minority communities – native Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese – coalesced and began a period of more intentional unity amongst themselves. This included many haole sympathizers. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, when anti-Japanese sentiment on the mainland ran to a fever pitch resulting in internment camps for Japanese-American families, there was an aggressively anti-internment haole movement in Hawaii. In the 1932 election, 90% of Hawaiians showed up to vote. Hawaiian politics was changed forever, with complete ethnic shakeup of local governments. Nothing is ever a perfect fix, and Hawaii still has its share of racial tensions, like every community, but the community rejection of racism was real, long-lasting, and inspiring.
Honor Killing by David Stennard. Give it a read. Great story, with a full cast of heroes and villains, and fundamental questions involving the criminal justice system in our country.
Attorney at Navigate Law Group
Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.