Can you go to jail for not paying medical bills?

According to Insider, close to 140 million Americans were in debt in 2019 because they couldn’t afford to pay their medical bills. Even the working-age population and those who have healthcare insurance are struggling to cover skyrocketing medical expenses. As the Kaiser Family Foundation shows, 80 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. It’s no wonder that medical debt has been such an alarming issue for a while now.

Are you, too, struggling with medical bills? If so, you might even be worried about the possibility of being arrested for an unsettled debt. DoNotPay is here to address your concerns and give you some ideas to help you deal with these expenses and avoid the worst-case scenario.

Do not hesitate to turn to DoNotPay for help


You shouldn’t wait for those expensive medical bills to start piling up to look for help. As soon as you realize that you’re struggling to cover all medical expenses, it’s time to turn to someone. When that moment comes, remember that you can count on DoNotPay to offer the most efficient solution completely free of charge. The very process of getting help from us is quite simple, too. We only need you to do the following:

  1. Log in to your account via a web browser or your iOS device
  2. Tell us what kind of bills are troubling you (type “medical bills” where required)
  3. Explain your situation, so we can understand your problem and what kind of help is best for you
  4. Leave your full name, address, email, and other required personal information

We will take it from there. When we have the necessary information, all the hard work is up to us, while you can relax and wait for our confirmation. When you use DoNotPay, everything can be done in no more than 48 hours.

Is it possible to go to jail for an unpaid medical bill?

No, it is not. The explanation is quite simple—your accumulated medical bill is considered a civil debt. Compliant with federal and state consumer collection laws, debt collectors are not allowed to threaten you with criminal prosecution when you have an unpaid civil debt.

However, you need to be careful not to get tricked by debt collectors who use special tactics to make your civil case a criminal one and get you arrested. When they sue you for an unpaid bill, the court may order that you show up for a hearing or to make a payment. Not following court orders can have much more severe consequences—you can go to jail if you don’t obey court orders. Here are some of the states where debt collectors may attempt to send you to jail this way:

  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Illinois 

What to do if you are summoned to court?

As you can see, avoiding court summons and neglecting court orders is not worth the risk. To be on the safe side, you need to know how to respond when they summon you to court for unpaid medical bills. If it comes to this, make sure you keep the following in mind:

  1. Read the instructions provided by the court
  2. Pay close attention to the deadline for answering the summons
  3. If you are summoned in person, be prepared to answer the summons within 20 days
  4. If you are summoned via email, be prepared to answer the summons within 30 days

What can happen if you don’t pay your medical bill?

Even though you cannot be arrested for an unpaid medical bill, that doesn’t mean that your healthcare provider will wait with their arms crossed. You need to be prepared for the potential outcome and know how to avoid the worst-case scenario—being sued. Always remember that the longer you wait, the more rigorous the measures will be. Here are the consequences of neglecting your medical bills:

  1. You are forced to pay penalty fees
  2. A debt collection agency takes over
  3. Your debt shows in your credit report
  4. Your healthcare provider takes legal action

You are forced to pay penalty fees

The first thing your healthcare provider will do to try to make you pay your overdue bill is to charge you penalty fees. The longer you wait, the higher the fees will get. When they eventually add up, you can end up paying much more than you were supposed to, so try to avoid this scenario.

A debt collection agency takes over

When you neglect your medical provider’s attempt to make you settle the debt, they will probably turn to a debt collection agency. Most healthcare providers hire collection agencies when a bill is three months past the due date. Not responding to their actions can lead to even greater trouble, so make sure you show that you want to collaborate.

Your debt shows in your credit report

Your accumulated medical bills will show in your credit report 180 days after your debt has gone into collection. This means that your credit score will be seriously damaged. You should also know that, if this happens, your debt will stay in the report for seven years.

Your healthcare provider takes legal action

As the final resort, your medical provider can take you to court for unpaid medical bills. Debt collectors can do the same. If any of the parties decide to do so, be prepared for what comes next.

Be prepared for a collection agency

No matter how unpleasant dealing with a collection agency might seem, it doesn’t have to be that way when you prepare adequately. You should do what’s in your power to avoid debt collectors, but if they take over, here’s what to do:  

  1. Do thorough research to learn how they operate
  2. Record every step you take
  3. Offer to pay a part of your debt

Do thorough research to learn how they operate

Depending on your particular situation and the assigned collection agency, there might be some differences in the approach. The safest way to be fully prepared for everything that’s going to happen is to learn more about what your collection agency is allowed to do to make you settle the debt. That way, you can anticipate their next step and know how to act.

Record every step you take

To be on the safe side, you should keep a paper trail of every step taken. Don’t throw away anything that has to do with your debt progress. When you have proof of every payment ever made, you don’t have to worry about debt collectors trying to charge you more than you actually owe. You also won’t have to stress over any potential misunderstandings or data loss. 

Offer to pay a part of your debt

Even if you can’t gather enough money to cover the full debt amount, that doesn’t mean that everything is lost. Many collection agencies will accept a counteroffer, so make sure you ask to pay one portion of the full amount for a start. They may be willing to take a certain amount of money for the time being, and then work out a schedule for you to pay off the remaining part. 

Can you go to jail for not paying other bills?

While you cannot be arrested for a civil debt, such as your medical bills, student loans, or neglected credit card bills, you can go to jail in case:

  • You fail to pay taxes
  • You fail to pay child support

When you neglect taxes or child support payments, that act is considered a federal crime, which is why they can arrest you for failure to pay these. You can be sent to jail for up to six months.

How to deal with exorbitant medical bills

Even though your income is not enough to cover a massive medical bill, you should never just let it be and wait for the situation to get complicated. There are various things you can do to prevent your medical bill from becoming so much of a problem. Here are some of the things you can do to cope with exorbitant medical expenses:

  1. Apply for a discount
  2. Apply for a special payment plan
  3. Turn to non-profit organizations offering help  

Apply for a discount

Many people are still not accustomed to the fact that you can get a discount for medical services provided. Most healthcare providers have a wide array of discount schemes on their offer, but they never talk about them until patients ask. As many don’t know about this, they continue to pay exorbitant bills even if they’d meet the requirements for a particular discount scheme. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Make sure you contact your hospital or doctor’s office to ask for more details about their discounts and find out how you fit in based on your situation

Even if you don’t come from a low-income family or you don’t meet any other eligibility requirement, you can still get a discount for paying in cash. Another option is to get a discount for paying the entire bill at once. In this case, the good news is that you’re not required to make the payment immediately—they’ll probably give you about a month to do so.  

Apply for a special payment plan

If you cannot get a discount, or you can, but it’s still not enough to help you pay the bill, you should ask for a payment plan. A payment plan will allow you to pay your bill in several monthly installments, which can be of great help. Here are some groups that are usually entitled to special payment plans:  

  • Low-income families 
  • People going through a financial crisis
  • The unemployed
  • The elderly
  • People with disabilities
  • Military service members
  • Single mothers

Turn to non-profit organizations offering help

When your medical bill is too high even after insurance, and no payment plan or discount can get you out of the trouble, it’s time you turned to organizations that offer help with medical bills, some of which include the following:

OrganizationsWhat kind of help they offer
MedicaidThis public-assistance program provides help for people struggling with medical bills regardless of their age. Some of their top-priority groups include low-income families, mothers-to-be, children, and people who get assistance from Supplemental Security Income.
Modest NeedsModest Needs can provide help with medical emergencies. Applicants don’t receive the money, but the organization pays the healthcare provider in question directly. They also offer help with other basic needs, such as rent and electric bills.
HealthWell FoundationThis is a non-profit organization that provides help for patients who can’t pay insurance or can’t afford to buy prescription medications. To apply for their assistance, you will need to submit a form filled out by your doctor, too.

Use DoNotPay to request an extension

When your billing statement arrives and you realize that the payment due date is too close for you to gather the money, there’s a simple solution to it—ask for an extension date. When you have a valid reason for asking for an extension, your request is bound to be approved. Here’s how you can do this:

  • Go to your healthcare provider 
  • Call customer support
  • Send an extension letter

You like the idea of sending a letter. It’s convenient, and it doesn’t take much time. The only problem is that you don’t know how to compose an extension letter to begin with. Luckily, that’s no longer a problem—DoNotPay is here to generate an extension letter on your behalf. We only need you to give us the information required to include in the letter, such as your name, surname, address, etc. Since your medical provider will want to know why you’re asking for an extension, we will also need you to explain your situation. Once we get everything we need, you don’t have to lift a finger. You can relax and wait for our app to send you a confirmation when the entire process is completed.

Use DoNotPay to ask for a waiver on late fees

When you have accumulated medical bills, late charges make the total amount even higher. It can mean a lot to at least get a waiver on those late fees. This, too, is a common solution, so do not hesitate to ask your medical provider for a waiver. If you like this option, here’s how you can go about it:

  • Ask for a waiver in person
  • Call your medical provider
  • Turn to a lawyer for help
  • Send a letter

While asking an expert for help is always a safe solution, you should remember that it can be quite costly, too. When you rely on DoNotPay, you can get help for free. Plus, rest assured that everything will be handled efficiently. Your part of the job is to leave your personal information and provide a short explanation as to why you’re asking for a waiver. After that, all the rest is on us. DoNotPay will include the provided information and compose the waiver letter on your behalf. We can send it, too, if that works for you. The entire process will be completed in up to two days, and you will get a confirmation once everything is done.

Other potential solutions

When it comes to coping with massive bills, different people try to deal with them in many different ways. In addition to those previously mentioned, many often wonder if the following solutions are worth considering: 

Potential solutionsShould you go down this road?
Paying by credit cardWith the rising popularity of cashless payment, many medical providers have introduced this form of payment. For that reason, paying with plastic can be quite convenient. If you wanted to pay in cash, but the amount is higher than expected, your credit card will come in handy. 

However, it is not advisable to rely on this form of payment too often, let alone when you have accumulated bills. When doing so, your credit score can be seriously damaged.

Applying for a loan This is an even less fortunate solution, so it should be your last resort. No matter how tempting it might be to apply for a loan and settle that exorbitant bill at once, remember that you’ll still remain in debt. Paying off a loan is much greater trouble than paying massive medical bills in the long run. It is also more expensive, as there’s no way around interest rates that make the already expensive bill even more costly. 

Rely on DoNotPay in many other potentially problematic situations

When we solve your problem with medical bills, we’ll be more than happy to help you out with other potentially problematic situations in the future, too. Whenever you find yourself facing a kind of bureaucratic nightmare, remember that DoNotPay can save the day. Here are some other things our app can do for you: