An Arm and a Leg: ‘Your Money or Your Life’: This Doctor Wrote the Book on Medical Debt

by | Nov 9, 2023 | Health

In 2019, emergency medicine physician and historian Luke Messac was working as a medical resident. He had heard about hospitals suing their own patients over unpaid medical bills, so he decided to investigate whether the hospitals where he worked were doing the same.

It turns out they were.

“The care I was delivering to patients was resulting in them showing up in court, or having their wages garnished, or signing up for a payment plan that they would be paying for the better part of a decade,” said Messac.

In this episode of “An Arm and a Leg,” host Dan Weissmann speaks with Messac about his book, “Your Money or Your Life: Debt Collection in American Medicine,” and how people working in health care can try to reform these practices.

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Transcript: ‘Your Money or Your Life’: This Doctor Wrote the Book on Medical Debt

Note: “An Arm and a Leg” uses speech-recognition software to generate transcripts, which may contain errors. Please use the transcript as a tool but check the corresponding audio before quoting the podcast.

Dan: Hey there. A couple years ago, I got in touch with a guy who’d been posting about this show on Twitter.

Luke Messac: Hi, yeah, my name is Luke Messac.

Dan: Luke is a doctor. He’s an instructor of emergency medicine at Harvard. And he’s a Ph.D. historian.

He told me he was writing a history of something we cover a lot on this show. Medical debt.

Luke Messac: It’s a problem I couldn’t avoid and therefore couldn’t avoid writing about.

Dan: And now that book is out. It’s called Your Money or Your Life. It tells the story of how the collection of medical debt in the US became so aggressive, the real impact it has on patients and – especially important for us – a different way to do things.

This is An Arm and a Leg, a show about why healthcare costs so freaking much and what we can maybe do about it. I’m Dan Weissmann. I’m a reporte …

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