South Carolina ranks 49th out of 50 in new study ranking states medical debt collection policies

One reasons for South Carolina’s low ranking is because hospitals can garnish wages and tax refunds.
When it comes to medical debt, not many Americans are worse off than South Carolinians, according to new research.
Updated: Jul. 12, 2022 at 5:58 PM EDT

(WBTV) - When it comes to medical debt in collections, not many in the nation are worse off than South Carolinians. That’s according to new research called the Medical Debt Policy Scorecard.

The Palmetto State finished 49th out of 50. But that might not be too surprising if you’ve followed WBTV’s Investigations on how medical debt is collected in South Carolina.

A WBTV Investigation in June revealed in just four years hospitals and healthcare facilities have garnished more than $390 million from South Carolinian’s tax refunds and wages, claiming they were owed money for unpaid hospital bills.

A WBTV Investigation in June revealed in just four years hospitals and healthcare facilities have garnished more than $390 million from South Carolinians

South Carolina has two programs that allow hospitals and government agencies to garnish money from residents. ‘Setoff’ allows agencies to garnish tax refunds. ‘GEAR’ gets them access to garnish people’s wages and even file liens.

“If you’re taking away their wages, then now they can’t afford food, they can’t afford rent,” Gabreila Elizondo-Craig with the Innovation for Justice research team said.

“They can’t afford their car or other transportation. It’s just really just compounding the issue that led to the debt in the first place.”

Elizondo-Craig was part of the research team at Innovation for Justice that put together the scorecard, ranking states based on their protections for consumers with medical debt.

One reason for South Carolina’s low ranking is that hospitals can garnish wages and tax refunds.

“One of the biggest challenges that we’ve seen is that several of these kinds of policies just fly under the radar,” Erika Rickard with Pew Charitable Trusts told WBTV.

Rickard is with Pew Charitable Trusts and was part of a team that compiled the scorecard.

“So, for example, can a debt collector garnish your wages after receiving a court judgment, or can they put a lien on your home on your property in order to collect on that judgment,” Rickard said.

But Rickard points out there are still a lot of unknowns about how this impacts people every day.

“What’s really compelling here is thinking about both on the tax side, Department of Revenue side and on the court side, is how little data there is, right? This report and the understanding of what’s happening in medical debt cases is really just in its infancy,” Rickard said.

“We’re really wanting to know more about who is being affected, how they’re being affected.”

You can help in figuring that out. If you have a problem with medical debt, email us at investigates@wbtv.com.

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