Zollinger should declare conflict on Medicaid expansion

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Jerry: I see there continues to be conflict at the Idaho Statehouse over Medicaid expansion.

Carrie: There shouldnít be. After all, 61 percent of the voters passed the ballot initiative requiring Idaho to expand Medicaid for people caught in the gap.

Jerry: The Legislature really dropped the ball on this one. For the past six years, they refused to act. Now that the voters have forced the issue, some legislators are still trying to put up barriers.

Carrie: Unfortunately, Idaho Falls Rep. Bryan Zollinger is one of the most vocal opponents despite the fact that 65 percent of his district voted in favor of Medicaid Expansion.

Jerry: Why is he so opposed when two-thirds of his constituents voted yes?

Carrie: When you make your living as a lawyer who represents a medical debt collection agency, perhaps your personal financial interest outweighs the publicís interest?

Jerry: Is medical debt collections really that big a business?

Carrie: Yes. Mr. Zollingerís law firm represents Medical Recovery Services, one of Idahoís largest medical debt collection agencies. Over the three year period from Jan. 2016 to Dec. 2018, Medical Recovery Services filed over 5,600 lawsuits in the Idaho courts to collect money from people who couldnít pay their medical bills. Rep. Zollinger was listed as their attorney on over 90 percent of those cases.

Jerry: Thatís an astonishing number. How did you find that out?

Carrie: I went onto the Idaho iCourt website. Itís the statewide electronic system where citizens can search for court records. You can look for yourself at www.icourt.idaho.gov.

Jerry: I had no idea Representative Zollinger was involved in that many cases. Of course, when you consider that over 60,000 Idahoans are caught in the Medicaid gap, I guess it makes sense.

Carrie: Collecting medical debt is a very lucrative business for Medical Recovery Services.

Jerry: How does it work?

Carrie: When a patient gets treatment but canít pay their bill, the medical provider may turn the bill over Medical Recovery Services to collect. Iím told medical debt collection agencies usually get about 33 percent of the amount collected.

Jerry: So whatís wrong with that?

Carrie: Nothing. Itís perfectly legal. But Medical Recovery Services adds large legal fees that can easily exceed the amount of the original debt. The defendant who couldnít pay his/her original debt now has to cover the legal fees to collect their debt.

Jerry: So how does the debt get paid?

Carrie: Typically, Medical Recovery Services, whom Mr. Zollinger represents, gets a court order garnishing up to 25 percent of the defendantís wages.

Jerry: When you are living paycheck to paycheck, how do you survive when you lose 25 percent of your wages?

Carrie: Hereís an example from a case that went to the Idaho Supreme Court. A man named Robert Lopez who worked for a trucking company was sued by Medical Recovery Services for a medical debt of $492 plus $285 in legal fees for Mr. Zollingerís law firm. They attempted to garnish his wages, but he had changed jobs and was now working for a farm operation. Once they located him, Medical Recovery Services went back to court and added $908 in new attorney fees for simply doing their job of collecting the debt.

Jerry: Wow. Theyíre getting paid $1,193 in legal fees alone to collect a $492 medical debt. Now thatís a lucrative business.

Carrie: Repaying a debt like that makes life difficult for a man working on a farm.

Multiply that by thousands of cases, and it really disrupts a lot of peopleís lives.

Jerry: With Rep. Zollinger involved in over 5,000 medical debt collection cases during the past three years, maybe itís time for him to publicly declare his very obvious conflict of interest regarding Medicaid expansion?

• ē ē

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator.

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