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Bill aims to stop medical debt collectors from hounding victims of violent crime

white building with columns
Crixell Matthews
The Virginia State Capitol. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/CPM News)

In Virginia, victims of violent crime can tap into a state fund to pay their medical bills, funeral expenses and other related out-of-pocket costs.

Some lawmakers want to make sure debt collectors can’t harass people while they wait for those payments to come through.

The Virginia Victims Fund — paid for by fines levied against individuals convicted of felonies and misdemeanors in Virginia — covers a variety of expenses, including medical bills, funeral costs and temporary housing. State law says once an individual has applied for that funding, healthcare providers can’t pursue them for payment.

Thomas Baker was injured during the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. He applied for funding to pay his medical bills, but the provider hassled him and sent his bills to collections anyway. 

“This was also during a time when I was trying to purchase my very first home,” he said during a meeting of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee hearing this week, where the bill was being heard. “This ended up being flagged and severely complicated and even threatened the purchase of my home.”

Even though this is against the law, Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) says there’s currently no way to enforce it.  He wants to make noncompliance a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which would allow victims of violent crimes to take persistent debt collectors to court.

But some lawmakers pushed back on the bill in committee.

“We’re going to put doctors out of business,” said Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George). He told Deeds it punishes doctors who are just trying to get paid.

Deeds responded, “Senator Stuart, if you want to tell them they can collect the money while the claim is pending, change the law. That’s already the law.”

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) also opposed the bill. She’s a practicing gynecologist.

“The contract between the healthcare provider is between the provider and the patient,” she said. “We’re interfering in that contract here.”

The bill is now going to the full state Senate for a vote. Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) is carrying a similar measure in the House of Delegates.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.