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N.C. County To Get Tougher Collecting on Unpaid Ambulance Debts

A North Carolina county is planning to deploy more “advanced collection methods,” including hiring collection agencies to help it recoup $28 million in unpaid ambulance bills.

Mecklenburg County, N.C., made the decision recently and will start going after the unpaid debts on Oct. 1. Bills that are more than 120 days overdue could also lead to wage garnishments for the individuals owing the debts.

County Commissioner Pat Cotham said the county will not seek to collect from individuals on “fixed or low incomes,” according to a published report. Only individuals “who have the ability to pay, but haven’t,” will be targeted. That includes individuals covered by Medicaid, worker’s compensation hospice or who qualify for charity write-offs.

About $2.2 million of the $28.7 million that is overdue is more than 120 days delinquent, according to a published report.

The president of the local NAACP chapter said that the county should not be going after anyone for unpaid bills because, “If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. There’s a reason why you haven’t paid your bills.”

Going after those individuals, who may already be in a situation where they are choosing which bills to pay, “will hurt people.”

A local pastor said that people may stop choosing to call for ambulances in the future in an emergency because they will be worried about being hit with a bill afterwards.

“People might have early signs of stroke and say ‘Let me try to sleep on this,’ ” said Rev. Willie Keaton, a local activist for the poor and pastor for Mount Olive Presbyterian Church. “That doesn’t sound like governing with the constituents in mind.”

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