In a throwback to the Victorian era, hard economic times are creating a comeback for debtors’ prisons, despite the fact that they have been ruled unconstitutional. But legal loopholes allow collections agencies to aggressively go after people who owe money. The Associated Press recently reported that an Illinois woman was sent to jail for an outstanding medical bill of $280, even though the bill was sent in error. Here is yet another horrid consequence of not having a universal, public healthcare system in the United States.
In more than one-third of states, people can be sent to jail if they can’t or won’t pay outstanding debts. Though California does place burdensome penalties on some debtors, the state isn’t as extreme as Illinois. As far as I know, there aren’t any cases here in the Golden State of people in jail for medical debt, thank goodness. But the fact that anywhere in this country, people are still being penalized for being poor makes America’s insistence that it is the “greatest country in the world” ring hollow. A truly great country does not put people in jail for debts, medical or otherwise. And a truly great country provides health coverage for all its people, making headlines like “Breast Cancer Survivor Jailed for Unpaid $280 Medical Bill” non-existent.