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Can you go to jail for unpaid medical bills?
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Can you go to jail for unpaid medical bills?

My dad's first cousin, who I will call John, and his wife are asking my parents for money to bail John out of jail. John accrued a $1300 hospital bill last year. He went to court and was ordered to pay. To my understanding he said in court that he would use his tax refund this year to pay off the debt. However, in November he lost his job and his family used that money on other things. He got arrested last week and has been in jail ever since. His wife and kids are asking my parents for money to bail him out.

Is that even legal to put someone in jail for medical debt? Also I know I have heard that if you pay at least a small amount every month they cannot say anything...as long as you keep paying.

Regardless this story breaks my heart. What should they do? Can they file bankruptcy? Can they apply for a charity to pay the bill?

My parents want to help them out, but they are afraid they will never get paid back--they have had some problems with them in the past.
Additional Details
I live in the United States. My parents live in Indiana if that helps.


In the USA yes. It is the only private fee that is exempt from bankruptcy relief as well. The medical profession will get your money, one way or another guaranteed at some point in your life. It is a total racket in the USA.

This article from Advanced Scientific Health publication on this subject is completely damning. They have known the cause and cures to ALL diseases decades ago. They let you die in agony to get all your money.... deliberately.


Practicing Shaman... quantum physics rocks.

udaya k
Poverty is a Crime.!!!

I have heard in INDIA some private banks sends man to harass the person if they do not pay their debt in time .

who is #1?
We have no debtors prisons in America. However, he may have been found in contempt of court. There would be no bail on a contempt charge, the Judge makes him go to jail and that's it, until he repents.

There's still something wrong with this story though. I suggest if they decide to pay the bill, they just pay it directly (don't give cousin the money) and call it a gift, never expecting to be paid back.

dartagnon p
Maybe they're getting him for lying to a judge or something like that but as far as I know they can't arrest you for debts. No debtors prisons in the United States unless the court twists it about like it sounds happened in this case.

Sounds like he should at least try to get a Legal Aid attorney if he can't get a PD.

I owed the hospital $72,000 for a stroke and they wrote it off before they even presented the bill ... most hospitals have donors who will back these debts but the person has to apply for them and NOT promise to pay them and show they have no means to pay. If you're up front with them they will find a program that will take care of it for you. The hospital's main intention is to get paid but they usually need the patient's co-operation and perhaps the signing of a few documents to cover the hospital. The judge probably knew this and was upset that the proper channels had not been followed so he came down hard perhaps not knowing that your relative did not know that alternatives were available. Oftentimes the hospital will not volunteer the info unless asked since that could cause a run on the donors generosity and the hospital may fear the loss of some donors if that occurs.

I think the only step at this point is to bring in a public defender or contact Legal Aid in your area. They're not easy to find but if you contact your local county health clinic they should have a number for Legal Aid or be able to steer you to someone who does. The charities will all have the numbers too. Catholic Charities can often recommend a Legal Aid attorney.


Just Wondering
I agree with everyone else about not going to jail for owed money.

Tell your parents to have john send them a copy of the court order that says he must pay with his income tax refund or go to jail. Actually, it would be on public record and they could go to the court house and find out for themselves, but that would be a pain. But, if they have the time and inclination, it's there for anyone to look at.

It's seems more likely John was arrested for something else, and like everyone else said, your parents will probably never see the money again. A good rule of thumb when lending money - don't lend it unless you don't care about getting it back.

No, you can't go to jail for owing a debt!

So, he was NOT arrested for owing money.

They can call the hospital and work out some kind of arrangement-- even if you pay $ 5 every month..

This guy is not telling you the whole truth , because you don't get arrested for owing money!!

Bilbo Baggins
Hi there.

You can pay what you can afford (BE REASONABLE)
they will set up a payment plan if you ask.
they want payments of say....$160 a month you tell them all you can do is send them$45 a month. They might be upset and say We can not accept that! Stop there and ask if they will sign to paper........that they are not willing to accept your offer. Usually they will give in.

If they sign the paper then you have proof you were not neglecting your responsibilities . You in good faith made an offer that they refused. I have seen some cases where the Judge threw the case out in favor the debtor .


Just Be
Something about this is just not right. Even if you get sued & ordered to pay the money they can't throw you in jail if you don't. If that were true O.J. would have been in jail years ago because he refused to pay the Brown's the settlement they won. That's the thing about a civil suit, they can get a judgment against you but getting the money if you refuse or can't pay is almost impossible.
There is no debtors prison unless it involves the IRS! LOL!

Michael M
That's weird...I don't know of anyone being jailed for not paying a bill. Usually if one doesn't pay a bill, the plaintiff goes to civil court and a judgment for a lien is placed against the debtor. Whenever they come into money, the lien becomes payable first.

Spock (rhp)
my guess is that the bail money would disappear and never be repaid.

maybe the court is irritated that John received a court order and did not comply after promising to do so. that is called contempt of court and you can be jailed for it. in my area, that rarely lasts more than 30 days and is usually 7 days.

you don't file bankruptcy over 1300 dollars. the lawyer alone will probably want 700 or more.

like everyone else in this situation, John should imp along after he gets out of jail, take any work he can find, and try to make a deal with his creditors.

Love Canada.
Canadians can't understand such a system. Health should never be for the rich only (Of course they don't even think their rich)

To my understanding only outstanding child support can lead to jail time, there is no debtors prison in the us court system, now he may have been arrested for failure to respond to an information subpoena, but something is not kosher

Also your parents if they choose to lend the monies should not expect it repaid based upon the person track record

Devlin B.
Agreed, he's not in jail for owing money. In the U.S. there's no such thing as a "debtor's prison". As others have pointed out, you cannot go to jail for owing money, unless you owe money to a court(fines/restitution) and don't pay it.

If you don't pay medical bills they can sue you, they can tarnish your credit, and they can send debt collector's after you, but they cannot send you to jail.

Don't know what country you are in, but if you are in the US, he got put in jail for something else and he is lying to you.

In the US, you cannot be jailed for owing money.

As others have said, you cannot be incarcerated for debt.
However, you CAN be incarcerated for Contempt of Court.

If there was only a court ruling that he owed the debt, then it would be up to the creditor to collect the debt. However, for whatever reason... perhaps evidence during the lawsuit indicated that the defendant would not pay, no matter the ruling, or perhaps it was a followup lawsuit that the defendant didn't pay... whatever the reason, the judge specifically ordered the defendant to pay upon certain terms. The defendant failed to follow the court order.

He has been jailed for contempt of court. His bail will be an amount that is a minimum portion of his debt. He needs to pay that, just to get out of jail. He's also going to have to continue paying the debt, or face being arrested again for contempt of court, again needing bail to get out which, of course, will be another portion of the debt owed.

It's a fine point, but the law IS a surgical series of fine points, not just a general broadaxe.

Que Sera Sera
Owing money is not a criminal offense. He broke no law by not paying his hospital bills. However, if he owed restitution for $1300 for a crime he committed and did not pay that, then he could be held in contempt and a warrant issued. I don't think "John" is being honest.

Ryan T
Can you go to jail for unpaid medical bills?

Wait I found something Kasey.

Are Debtor Prisons Returning To America?
Hospitals hound uninsured patients for bill payments and now rank among America’s most aggressive debt-collectors using one of the harshest and least-known collections tactics of all: seeking the arrest of no-show debtors. We speak with Jim Bean who was jailed in Illinois in part because he failed to pay a hospital bill and we hear from the CFO of the hospital that sought his arrest as well as a member of a grass roots citizen action organization in Illinois.

Yes.. i just got off the phone with a friend of mine of many years.. She was arrested and jailed, while having her very young son with her for not paying her medical bills in Illinois. And the sad part is they are in collection because she owes an ungodly amount for her daughter that ended up loosing her life. So Yes you can go to jail for non payment.. at least in Illinois.

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