In the best of times, unexpected medical and insurance issues along with the usual trips to the doctor’s office leave many people responsible for huge medical bills that they can’t pay. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, job losses, and economic downturn, it feels like the worst of times. Unfortunately, medical issues have no regard for timing and the debts have left many wondering “how will I pay for this?” as it looms over them.
These concerns are valid; with rising healthcare costs and medical bills being one of the main reasons people file bankruptcy, many people end up in debt collections for unpaid doctors’ bills. The debts themselves are confusing and it’s difficult to figure out which provider is billing. This is even more complicated when a debt is sold to a third-party debt collector. Some people may try to pay off these debts and end up with further financial hardship. On the other hand, they may choose to ignore them completely until a judgment is filed against them.
Instead of dealing with one of these extremes, here’s what you need to know about dealing with medical bills that have been sent to collections.
Preventing Bills from Going to Collections
Even if you rack up high balances from medical expenses, there are ways to keep them from going into collections. When you get your bills, you should communicate with your medical provider to make payment arrangements that are acceptable to you and to them.
There are also resources available to help you pay your medical bills. Some hospitals offer financial assistance and charge you on a sliding scale based on your income. Some medical providers offer payment plans that you can make monthly payments on. There are also nonprofit organizations that help consumers pay their medical bills depending on the medical condition and financial circumstances. Doing your research can help you figure out which options can help you pay your medical bills without hurting your finances.
Medical Providers Have to Wait Before Turning Your Account Over to a Debt Collector
Lawmakers have realized that many medical bills are unfairly sent over to third-party collection agencies. That is why as of 2016, medical providers must wait 180 days (about six months) before they are able to send unpaid medical bills to collections. This is to allow time for insurance companies to resolve claims and give patients time to pay their balances.
This is good news for patients as it gives them time to pay their bills and make payment arrangements without being penalized or hurting their credit.
How to Negotiate Medical Bills Already in Collections
If you run out of time to pay the balance owed on your medical bills and get sent to collections, you can still negotiate with the debt collection agency. Many debt collectors will agree to a payment plan or even allow you to settle your balance for less than you originally owe. The key to working with debt collectors is to communicate with them.
If you’re worried about taking a hit on your credit, you may also be in luck. Some credit scoring models don’t factor collections for medical bills into your credit score. Also, not all debt collectors report you to the credit bureaus. Negotiating to pay your debts and following through on any payment arrangements may keep your credit from being ruined.
Consumer Laws that Protect You
Sometimes when a bill goes to collections, the collection agency will threaten to sue you over the balance that you owe. If this is the case, getting legal representation can help you. Believe it or not, there are laws that protect consumers from unfair collection practices. These laws can often work to your advantage when dealing with a lawsuit. Not only that but when it comes to medical bills in debt collections, the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPPA) may add another layer of protection to patients who are being sued.
If you’re concerned about paying outrageous legal fees to deal with a debt collection lawsuit, book an appointment with Utah Legal Coach today. Our unbundled legal services cost less than traditional representation so that you can get the legal advice you need without putting further strain on your finances.
Hi! I’m Angie Allen and I’ve been a paralegal for almost 20 years. My passion for the law led me to become one of the first four paralegals to become a Licensed Paralegal Practitioner in Utah so that that I can work towards equalizing access to justice. I’m dedicated to helping people get the legal help they need and I want to help you with your legal matters. My practice is focused on helping clients with family law and debt collection matters at a reasonable cost.
I also have experience in many facets of the law including family law, bankruptcy, debt collection, and criminal prosecution and defense. I’m currently appointed to the Utah Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Licensed Paralegal Practitioner Steering Committee.
Outside the office, I enjoy trying to be a clumsy adrenaline junkie, spending half the month with my husband and enjoying the other half enjoying him being out of town for work and showing our two children new things. I will travel anywhere that I can find cheap airfare to and love being with my family and friends.