Medical Debt? Learn How We Can Help!

It is—perhaps—the worst kept secret in the U.S. today that we are, as a people, in financial distress. The idea of living paycheck to paycheck is very familiar to many of us. Often, it is difficult to manage unexpected bills that accompany an automobile injury. Even when the car wreck is not your fault and the at fault driver has liability insurance, it can take months and sometimes even years to resolve the claim. In the meantime, health care providers continue to send bills (or worse, send the bills to collection agencies or report the debt to a credit reporting agency). Once reported, an alleged debt can contribute an overall decline in fortunes as employers, landlords, and others have started to utilize credit scores in making decisions—to say nothing of financial institutions who seem to view the agencies’ files as their guiding lights. The Sword of Damocles, the threat of reporting a debt, dangles over the American people—threatening their American Dream. So the question remains, given your finite resources, how should you prioritize your debt payments? It’s a big question, but you can pay other debts like secured mortgage debt and credit cards prior to your medical debt, if you have the cooperation and assistance of the medical provider. Having an attorney to assist in this regard certainly helps. Medical providers can hold off on collections if they have the assurances from an attorney that the bills will be paid out of recovery or the proper processing through medpay or health insurance.

These are some quick things consumers need to know about dealing with medical debt:

1.      If handled correctly, Medical debt should be the LOWEST priority of debts owed on an individual’s list of bills to pay. Unlike credit cards or loans, medical debt typically carries a very low interest rate, if it carries one at all. Consumers should never put medical debt on a credit card because it may interfere with financial help programs that are available to low income patients—and the credit card will likely balloon a smaller debt into a monstrous problem. Also worth noting, when properly negotiated medical debt rarely shows up on credit reports immediately like a delinquency on other bills.

2.      Unless given assurances of payment, Health care providers often turn over medical debt quickly and will hire debt collectors to try to get consumers to pay the debts. If the consumer has a lawyer, it is advisable to notify the attorney immediately of any attempts to collect a medical bill, so that the attorney can make arrangements with the healthcare provider. If the consumer does not have an attorney, it may be advisable for consumers to call the healthcare provider and explain their financial hardship before the collection agency is given the account information. If they know the patient will not pay the collection agency, they may opt to keep your account open since they have to pay a fee to send it to collections. In the event a debt collector is hired, if a third-party collection agency is calling to collect on medical debt, under federal law, they must stop if the consumer sends a letter asking them to stop—and many callers must stop just based upon a request over the phone that the calls terminate.

“In the case of calls to a consumer’s cell phone, it is important to answer and demand that the calls stop immediately. However, if a debt collector is harassing a consumer, making false representations, or otherwise harassing the consumer, then it is important to reach out to a lawyer immediately. We can make the communications stop.”

–Attorney Orion Webb

(Orion Webb practices Consumer Law and can be contacted at 770-389-4864 or owebb@smithwelchlaw.com)

3.      Patients should always double check their invoices for errors and unauthorized charges. Another place to check for errors is on any explanation of benefits form received from a patient’s insurance company. These records should match up, but if they don’t, consumers should immediately dispute any inaccuracy to the medical provider, debt collector, and to the Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs)—whichever entities are reporting or communicating the inaccuracy. It is very important that inaccurate information on credit reports is disputed directly to the CRAs as well as to the entity reporting the information.

Often times, one of the biggest concerns our personal injury clients have are the amount of medical bills that accrue during their course of treatment. This burden can seem overwhelming and intimidating, especially if it is a process they have never had to navigate. One of the many ways we help our clients is by arranging with health care providers to hold off on collection until the claim is resolved. Often sending a “letter of protection” will keep the charges from going to a debt collector. In other cases, signing a lien agreement may work. If you or a loved one has overwhelming medical bills due to an injury sustained in an accident make sure to call experienced personal injury attorney John Webb today at 770-389-4864 or email him at jwebb@smithwelchlaw.com.

No matter your law needs, Smith, Welch, Webb, & White is here to help. Contact us today for a free legal consultation!


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