RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — There are calls for lawmakers to pass a bill that would make it easier for people dealing with medical debt.

This follows the release of a report by researchers, which says some North Carolina hospitals file a disproportionate number of lawsuits in this state to collect unpaid medical expenses.

A bill that would help remedy the situation passed the Senate unanimously a while back, but it now sits in the House awaiting action.

It comes at a time when State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Duke Law School researchers released a study saying a small number of hospitals are responsible for most of the state’s medical collection lawsuits.

Medical debt in this country is enormous, as more than 88 billion is now in collections nationwide according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Folwell says medical debt collection affects 1 in 5 people here in the state.

The studies by Duke University Law and the NC treasurer’s office say less than a half dozen North Carolina hospitals are responsible for almost 96 percent of the collection lawsuits aimed at recovering medical debt.

“Once patients have a default judgment, entered against them or lose a default judgment the impact to be colossal,” said Sara Sternberg Greene of Duke University’s School of Law. “In North Carolina, judgments automatically act as liens against the patient’s home.”

Hospital billing systems are complex and hard to understand.

Researchers say those bills are also prone to errors.

When those bills go unpaid lawsuits can follow.

“Some of those lawsuits are from what’s called surprise bills, when a patient thinks they are at in-network provider and after the fact get a huge bill,” said Julie Havlak, a researcher with the N.C. Treasurer’s office, “Those bills are notorious for their sky-high markups and for preying on patients when they are at their most vulnerable.”

“This is like an onion, the more we peel the more we cry, and this is so fixable,” said Treasurer Folwell.

Senate Bill 321 would create greater transparency for patients as well as give patients a written explanation of financial assistance options.

It would also ban debt collectors from seeking repayment from a patient’s family members.

The bill keeps unpaid medical bills off credit scores until a year after the bill is issued.

“A medical bill does not usually affect one’s credit score or credit report but once the hospital decides to send it to collection or sue in court, then all of a sudden it’s on the credit report, and that affects one’s credit score,” said Sara Sternberg Greene of Duke University Law School.

With all that’s going on in the general assembly, it doesn’t appear the bill unanimously passed by the Senate will see a vote on the House anytime soon.