County, Kansas, imprisons people for unpaid medical debt

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<pre><pre>County, Kansas, imprisons people for unpaid medical debt

There is at least one topic in this election year where a divided electorate can come together: A recent survey showed that 90% of those polled felt that it was important to make health care more affordable.

Millions of Americans remain uninsured.

According to CBS News correspondent Meg Oliver, working with ProPublica, some people are even put in jail for suffering from a system that places new demands on overburdened incomes.

Tres and Heather Biggs' son Lane were diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 5. At the same time, Heather suffered bouts of Lyme disease.

"We had so many – multiple health problems in our family at the same time that we got into a bracket that made insurance inaccessible," said Heather Biggs. "It wouldn't have made sense. We shouldn't have had to eat, we wouldn't have had a home."

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Tres Biggs worked two jobs, but they stayed on their medical bills and then the unthinkable happened.

"You wouldn't think you'd go to jail for medical bills," said Tres Biggs.

Tres Biggs was jailed for not appearing in court for unpaid medical bills. He described it as "scary".

"I was scared to death," said Tres Biggs. "I am a country child – I had to take off my clothes, cum and put on overalls."

Bail was $ 500. He said they had "maybe $ 50 to $ 100 back then".

In rural Coffeyville, Kansas, where the poverty rate is twice the national average, lawyers like Michael Hassenplug have established successful law firms that represent health care providers to collect their neighbors' debts.

"I'm just doing my job," said Hassenplug. "They want the money to be collected, and I try to do my job as best I can by complying with the law."

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This law was passed on the recommendation of Hassenplug to the local judge. The lawyer applies this law by asking the court to tell people with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months and finding that they are too poor to pay in a so-called "debtor check".

If two hearings are missed, the judge issues an arrest warrant for disregarding the court. Security deposit is set at $ 500.

Hassenplug said he was "paid for what was collected". If the bail money is applied to the judgment, he gets part of it, he said.

"We send them to prison for disregarding the court for not appearing," said Hassenplug.

In most courts, bail is refunded when defendants appear in court. But in Coffeyville, almost all of this money goes to lawyers like Hassenplug and the medical debt owed by his clients.

"This raises serious constitutional concerns," said Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of ACLU. "What is happening here is a prison shake-down for cash that is criminalizing private debt."

CBS News went to court on the day of the debt collection. They didn't let our cameras in, but we watched more than 60 people swear they didn't have enough money to pay, and only one of them had a lawyer to represent them.

Michael Hassenplug continues to work.