Nearly anyone who’s run up some medical bills in the U.S. knows this experience: Being harassed to pay up.
This happened to me last year when a hospital started calling my daughter every day to pay an emergency room bill that was billed to my insurance, but hadn’t even been processed by my insurer.
Naturally, I wasn’t happy, but I knew what to do. This is a growing problem in the U.S., where health-care providers are hiring third parties to collect debts and even taking people to court. The debt collectors can be overly aggressive and obnoxious.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “43 million consumers had medical bills on their credit reports and that, all together, American families owed around $88 billion in medical bills.” Yet these debts can be damaging in so many ways — especially if they are not owed.
“Medical debt affects people’s ability to access affordable credit, find quality housing, or even obtain a job,” the CFPB reports. The agency found that “many consumers report that the medical tradelines on their credit reports are not accurate. When inaccurate or false information is furnished to consumer reporting companies, it can be a form of coercing patients and their families into paying medical bills and debts they do not owe.”
What can you do to protect yourself? You have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
When a debt collector communicates with you, they’re required to provide certain information about the debt. When the information is provided in writing or electronically, it is called a “validation notice,” and it will generally include information like:
- Name and mailing information of the debt collector
- Name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed
- Account number (if any) associated with the debt
- An itemization of the current amount of the debt that reflects interest, fees, payments, and credits since a particular date that you may be able to recognize or verify with records
- The current amount of the debt as of when the validation notice is provided
- Information about your debt collection rights including how to dispute the debt
You should also verify with your insurance company which charges you are responsible for and your out-of-pocket expenses. You should’ve received a “statement of benefits” letter telling you that your claim is being processed. If you haven’t received one, call your insurer to confirm they are working on it.