To put medical debt in the larger context of a family’s finances, Washburn also explores what happens to patients’ credit records when they can’t pay their medical bills—an important addition to the narrative. It’s not pretty. Even a small unpaid bill can contribute to a poor credit score, and if patient and provider dispute a bill, the hospital can send the bill to a collection agency. “Once it goes to collections, even if paid promptly, it’s a stain on their credit report,” Boston consumer advocate Mark Rukavina told Washburn.

After Jon Stewart’s interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week, in which he tackled an ignored piece of the health reform story, Washburn noted that her piece about Frances Giordano also illustrated another underreported story. I say amen.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.