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Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying The Medical Bills?

jail for medical bills

Imagine going to the hospital because of the virus. You have been doing okay for the past few days, but suddenly you get a bad cough, and when you did your test, you came out as Covid positive. So you stay a few days in the hospital until your doctor says you’re all healed up. But as you jump in glee because you have won against the virus, the bill comes, and you realize that you do not have the money to pay it. Can you go to jail for not paying the medical bills?

What are you going to do? Can you get out of the hospital without consequences, or are you in trouble?

Your Medical Bill Is a Form of Civil Debt

This might sound surprising, but your medical bill is a form of civil debt and for the most part of the modern world, no one can go to prison because of a civil debt. In fact, most consumer rights law protects you from threats and criminal prosecution from your debt collector. 

A good example is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in the US. One of its guidelines has a restriction on a third-party debt collector’s ability to contact its debtor and who else they can contact. If a violation happens, suing them for damages and legal fees in the one year of the violation is now possible.

Even most of the guidelines of the FDCPA can be found in other consumer laws in different countries like the Business Practices and Consumer Act in Canada, specifically Part 7, Division 1 and Section 12DJ of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Act.  

The Process for Your Medical Bill 

Hospitals, especially private ones, pay their doctors, nurses and other staff members, including utilities and maintenance. If nobody pays their medical bills, the hospital might cease operation. 

That is why, if people cannot pay their medical bills, the hospital will typically sell it to a debt collection agency. Once that happens, debt collectors can start calling you, which can be worrying and annoying. This will also automatically negatively affect your credit score, and the longer it takes for you to pay those debts, the more your score will plummet.

If you keep ignoring them, the debt collectors or the hospital will be forced to take legal action against you, which means you will get sued. Most of the time, people will try to settle for a debt agreement but the pressure will be on the debtor to make a proposal that their debt collector can agree with. If they don’t like the proposal, then both parties will have to go to court.

If worst comes to worst and your debt collector wins, you will be forced to file for bankruptcy. This has both positives and negatives, but depending on the agreement, some of the actions they can do are:

  • Seize some of your property as collateral for your debt
  • Take a portion of your wage 
  • Freeze all or some of your bank accounts
  • Sell your debt to other parties

That being said, if you have nothing that can be used to pay, then your debt collector can ask the court to summon you for a debtor’s examination. Here you will be asked to answer questions under oath if you have any other assets, other debts that need to be paid, and your employment information and status. If you’re not paying your taxes, this will also come up in the proceedings.

The Possibility of Jail for not paying your bills

Now bear this in mind. You absolutely must go to your debtor’s examination. You cannot go to jail for unpaid medical bills or other civil debts, but you can go to jail if you ignore a court order. The two are separate from each other, so do not twist them.

What Can You Do To Avoid This? 

If you cannot pay your medical bills immediately, try to talk to your insurance company and see if they can do anything.

It would be best for you to talk to your medical provider, too, so you can explain your situation properly and can come to an agreement. Maybe they can come up with a payment plan that is well suited for your situation.

If you doubt your abilities in these situations, you would be wise to hire a consumer rights attorney or any professional that can help with your situation.


Life can be unpredictable, and with the pandemic still going on and the virus spewing out new variants, there’s a possibility that you can get infected. If you are one of the unlucky ones that got laid off, focus first on healing rather than your medical bills. So the short answer to can you go to jail for not paying the medical bills? You will not go to jail if you cannot pay them, but you will be obliged to pay. 

So it would be best for you to talk to your medical provider about your situation. Avoiding your debts will not settle them and will make them worse.

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