Policy allowing wage garnishment for unpaid Medic bills put on hold

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County is now delaying the implementation of its new policy to refer unpaid Medic bills to the tax collector for wage garnishment.

The first file was scheduled to be referred on Oct. 4, but Channel 9 learned Wednesday morning that the policy will be delayed until staff brings back possible alternatives to the County Commission.

On Tuesday night, commissioners instructed county staff to review the policy allowing Medic to send unpaid ambulance claims to the tax collector for wage garnishment.

A Mecklenburg Emergency Medical Services Agency spokesperson said they have mailed warning letters to people who are 120 days past due on their account.

Final notice letters were sent to more than 3,000 people who owe more than a total of $3 million for unpaid ambulances services.

Since 2012, Medic has not received roughly $123 million in unpaid fees. In the 2019 fiscal year, Medic has not been fully paid by 35,177 patients.

The new policy was announced last month.

[READ MORE: New ambulance delay actually helps to save lives, Medic says]

Medic said there are three options to fill the gap, including:

  • Raise rates
  • Increase county funding
  • Expand collection activity

Medic officials have already said not everyone will be garnished, including those who are on Medicaid, receiving workman's compensation or VA coverage, as well as those being cared for in a hospice.

Mecklenburg County commissioners didn’t directly approve the new policy. Commissioners approved the budget that provided the funding required that allows the tax collector to perform the tasks.

The county attorney told commissioners Tuesday night they have the ability to instruct the tax collector to not garnish wages.

More than a dozen people spoke against the changes.

"What we know is the most vulnerable and desperate in our community will die over this," Charlotte resident Stephy Hamrick told commissioners.

"The working class will have to choose between Uber and an ambulance," resident Dominic Harris said.

This system has been in place until 1996. At that point, the county switched to a private collection agency.

“We are going to make sure we are not going to hurt people, but we are going to collect debt, even if we have to go a dollar a month,” Vice Chair Elaine Powell said.

Many commissioners expressed concern about the new policy.

“I am disturbed by the whole thing,” Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said. “I don't think there is a single person up here who wants to see people in debt because of a medical claim.”

The state statute Garnishment and Lien for Ambulances Service allows tax collectors to garnish wages, bank accounts or any type of income to collect a payment. The local NAACP worried the policy would target the poor; however, Commissioner Pat Cotham said in September that's not the case.

"We're going to go for the people who can pay, and they should pay, and so that's the way I take it," Cotham said.

Payments can be made using the following options:

"I'm not worried that I'll get people calling and complaining about this. I've only had one, and I was able to talk to her and explain to, and she was like, 'Oh, that makes sense,' and she felt better about it. I’m not worried," Cotham said.