Medical bills can put you into debt. Even if you have health insurance, you may have to pay a deductible.
If you are unable to pay your medical bills, the medical provider may turn your account over to a debt collector and report it to the credit bureaus as a negative account. There are debt collectors who specialize in collecting medical debt. There are also companies who specialize in buying medical debt for pennies on the dollar.
If you are hounded by a debt collector, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is there to help you. Just because you aren’t dealing with a credit card debt don’t think your rights are lost. The collector who collects medical debt must comply with the FDCPA. This includes not accessing your confidential medical information. If the collector violates the FDCPA, you may have to file a lawsuit to rectify any damages suffered. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) also applies. If the medical provider reports erroneous information about your medical bill to the credit bureaus, you have the right to dispute the inaccuracy directly with the bureaus. If the information isn’t corrected, you may have to file a lawsuit to get it corrected.
Apart from debt collection harassment and inaccurate credit reporting, medical bills can lead to bankruptcy. This is a serious issue. When faced with medical bills there are certain things you can do to protect yourself.
First, make sure you have a bill. Sometimes the health insurance companies will send an explanation of benefits (EOB) to explain what’s been paid. If the EOB shows you are responsible for a portion of the charge, expect a bill from the medical provider’s office.
Second, verify the charge isn’t covered by insurance. Mistakes often occur with medical billing. If need be, follow up with the insurance company to find out why the bill wasn’t paid. Confirm with your medical provider that your insurance company was billed for the right services. Because medical billing is so complex, you may get a bill and the due date is already passed or fast approaching. If this is the case, call the medical provider. Explain that you just received the bill and ask if you can have some additional time to pay. Otherwise, the medical provider may report a late payment to the credit bureaus.
Third, make payment arrangements. Often times medical providers are willing to help a patient who can’t pay the bill. Ask if you can enter into a payment plan. If you enter into a plan, make sure you are able to make your monthly payments. If not, the provider may send your account to a collection agency. When setting up the payment arrangements, ask the provider if your account has been or will be reported as a negative account to the credit bureaus. By entering into the payment plan, maybe the provider will refrain from the negative credit reporting. If not, you will need to make sure your payments are accurately reflected on your credit report.