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Lawmakers kill proposal to protect patients from medical debt collection

A bill that would have stopped debt collectors from garnishing wages from patients with surprise medical bills will not move forward.

DENVER — KUSA – Legislation designed to prohibit creditors from going after the wages of people with medical debt failed Monday despite pleas from the bill’s sponsor that such legislation was sorely needed.

The Colorado House Finance Committee killed Rep. Kerry Tipper’s (D-Lakewood) bill Monday afternoon following a robust round of criticism mostly from debt collectors.

The bill came on the heels of a 9Wants to Know investigation that discovered insured patients getting stuck with wage garnishments and property liens after visiting hospitals in-network with their insurance plans.

RELATED: How you can visit the hospital, then get a lien on your home

Nicole Briggs, featured in the 9Wants to Know series “Lien on Me” in November, told the legislative panel Monday that she is still dealing with wage garnishment more than two years after she went to Swedish Medical Center for an appendectomy. While the hospital billed her insurance company at an in-network rate, the surgeon who removed Briggs’ appendix had no such contractual agreement with her insurance company.

Briggs was sued for nearly $5,000. 

A lien was placed on her home early last year, and in the spring, the collections company started garnishing her wages to ensure payment. She’s still paying that debt today.

“I pay for my own health insurance. I work full time. My house is 30 years old. My car is 11 years old. I have an 8-month-old child,” said Briggs. “There’s just no room for this thousand dollars a month to come out of my paycheck.”

Legislators sympathized with her story but ultimately decided the legislation went too far.

Scott Allely, a representative of the collections industry, said not all medical providers are trying to collect on debt like the one owed by Briggs. 

“Most of our clients are optometrists, dentists, physical therapists, family practice doctors,” he said. “These providers rely on the money we collect for them and return it to sustain their practices and their employees.”

Rep. Tipper isn’t done trying to address issues raised during the “Lien on Me” investigation. In a few weeks, a bill she is sponsoring to eliminate property liens for medical debt will hit the same legislative committee.

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