Affordable Access to Medical Care

Columbia Legal Services works to ensure that Washington families are able to access affordable medical care without falling into financial ruin. One unplanned health emergency should not lead to a devastating cycle of debt. Harmful debt collection practices cause additional economic stress on low-income people who already struggle to pay their bills and provide for their families.

In September 2016, Columbia Legal Services joined with Schroeter Goldmark & Bender to file a class action lawsuit against a debt buyer and debt collector based in Washington State for engaging in a coordinated scheme to enrich themselves at the expense of the plaintiff and class members, squeezing money out of poor people’s pockets while violating the Washington Collection Agency Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.


Tanesha Roberson is a construction manager and a single mother of three living in Renton. In January 2010, Ms. Roberson took her son to Highline Medical Center’s emergency room to treat a spider bite. This brief hospital visit resulted in a $2828.69 medical bill that Ms. Roberson could not afford to pay because she was unemployed and uninsured at the time. Highline sent Ms. Roberson several billing statements that year, none of which included an interest charge, but did not take any further action. 

Two year later, in 2012, Highline sold a portfolio of unpaid hospital accounts, including Ms. Roberson’s, to Hawes Klein, LLC for pennies on the dollar. Hawes Klein and its collection agency affiliate Ray Klein, Inc. comprise different branches of a coordinated debt-buying and collecting operation owned by Joseph Hawes of Vancouver, Washington.

In this case, neither Hawes Klein nor Ray Klein contacted Ms. Roberson or attempted to collect on the debt for three years after purchasing her account. The first time Ms. Roberson found out about the sale was five and a half years after her son’s hospital visit when Ray Klein obtained a default judgment. Not only did this judgment include the original outstanding balance of $2828.69, but also $1920.68 in interest that was calculated to the date of hospital service.

Ray Klein allowed three years to pass from when it bought the debt before filing a suit in order to maximize interest charges. Ray Klein also failed to submit the required proof that it had in fact acquired Ms. Roberson’s account from Highline when it obtained default judgment as required by law. These practices resulted in a judgment being entered against Ms. Roberson for $5,367.37. And in November 2015, days before Thanksgiving, Ray Klein garnished her credit union account, taking $1205.53 of the $1503.53 balance in her account  that she had saved up in order to pay rent and buy Christmas gifts for her three children.

Too many low-income families in Washington State, like Ms. Roberson, face insurmountable debt after receiving necessary medical care. Many of these families are eligible for charity care, but hospitals fail to properly screen patients for the program. Columbia Legal Services, working closely with patients and allies, aims to break down these barriers to affordable hospital care so all families can thrive. Find out more about our Fair Access to Hospital Care campaign.