If your outstanding debt is for a medical or hospital bill, there are additional steps you can take when dealing with these types of financial obligations. Consumers have many methods to use to stop debt collectors from calling and/or harassing them. Some of these or more unique as hospitals have a different set of rules to follow when they deal with their patients. Below are several effective, worthwhile steps you can take to stop the collectors cold, and many of them are simple and practical to implement. These methods are complied from a variety of sources.
Hospital bill debt collectors need to abide by the hospital's rules. These regulations are much different than what maybe found at a typical businesses. When a debt collection agency enters into a business contract with a hospital or medical provider, they need to agree in writing that they will follow the practices, regulations, and standards that are already in place. They do this as the hospital may have different standards.
A patient is entitled to this information as well. This is especially true of federal government qualified medical centers or clinics, as if they receive financial aid from the government then residents are entitled to know everything about ti. You should contact the hospital and ask them for their debt collection policies.
They should not go after your home or wages. While there may be a few exceptions, the hospital can’t use either liens or wage garnishment as a way to collect an unpaid bill. This much different than other businesses. The limited exception can be if the debt collector is the designated collection agency for the hospital. In this case, they may be able to do this, with a few restrictions of course.
Resolve billing errors. If a billing or insurance error occurs, it can lead to additional expenses on your account that are not legitimate. You are absolutely not responsible for paying on them, if you discover it. Unfortunately doctors and hospitals are notorious for billing errors, and some studies show that about 8 out of 10 medical bills have errors.
Review your statement closely so you do not overpay, and errors should be resolved before it goes to collections. If the mistake is not found then the patient may in fact end up paying. Read more on how to detect billing errors.
Never pay a copay with cash. You run the risk of losing proof that you paid the bills as it is easy and all too common to misplace a receipt. Since many people use a hospital during an emergency, the chance of misplacing paperwork is even greater.
Debt collectors love when people pay in cash as many do not have receipts. The bottom line is that if you have no proof, that means you are the one in trouble. If you are desperate, and need to pay in cash or write a check, or if you are forced to pay cash in an emergency visit, be certain that you place that receipt somewhere very memorable and prominent.
Make a copy of it as so as you get home from the hospital or medical provider. The more copies the better, as it reduces the chance of it being misplaced. Keep the receipt for at least 6 months. Remember that you can be sent to a hospital debt collection agency by a medical provider for as little as $20 in unpaid bills.
Collections of a hospital debt should not start for 150 days. If you have been classified as having "high medical bills" or costs, a doctor or hospital is not suppose to report lack of payment or collections issues until a certain amount of time has passed. They should also not notify a consumer credit reporting agency.
Hospitals also are not to commence any type of lawsuit or civil action against the patient for nonpayment of a bill until at least 150 days from the initial service date. However, put another way, this means that the clock start the moment hospitalization occurs, and not when you are discharged. Also you need to keep in mind that “high medical costs" designation is specifically defined, and not everyone will fit this criteria.
Extend the debt collection deadline past 150 days. You can go beyond the 150-day limit prior to the hospital bill going thru debt collection if you file an appeal for coverage of services. Any patient that has a low income, or that may struggle as a result of their medical condition, should take this step.
What exactly is an appeal? This is when you state you have a grievance against a hospital, doctor, health service plan or insurer. It can also be an appeal for a fair hearing for Medicare coverage. So there are different ones to try.
However, if you do file an appeal against any party, you need to advise the hospital and keep them in contact with the progress. They will be responsible for notifying the debt collection company. If you are having problems with health insurance payments, go ahead and file a grievance early in the process and then you need to make sure you communicate this information in writing to a hospital's billing office. But that in itself is not enough.
Patients should also keep a copy of all communication for your records. Include in your communication with them that the notification will prevent/delay hospital bill debt collection practices. Make sure that is clearly stated in all communications. Then debt collectors should not contact you during this process.
Try to get your debt to be interest-free. Many hospital have plans in place that if you regularly pay a portion of the bill (not even necessarily the minimum) and if you stay in contact with them, they will reduce your interest rate, oftentimes down to zero. You need to ask for this though, and provide details on why you are struggling to pay the bill in the first place.
In addition, you cannot be charged interest on any unpaid hospital bills or debts if you are eligible for assistance from the hospital's charity program or their discount payment policies. You also can’t be charged fees or interest either if you are part of any extended payment plan negotiated by you to settle an outstanding hospital debt. Almost all hospitals offer these types of payment plans to low income households or those on Medicaid.
So, your goal should be to get yourself designated as being in the hospital charity or discount program as soon as possible. A debt collector will have different rules they need to adhere too when you set up a small payment process or plan with the medical provider, even if you are setting it up because of a very large deductible on your policy. This type of plan will limit if and when they can call you on your account. The charity program from a hospital will also put other protections in place for the person that is on arrears on their hospital debts.
Get help from the hospital charity or assistance program. If you wait for the hospital bills to arrive at your home, it is probably to late for this. So be pro-active, and ask for financial help immediately. Asking up front will help stop future collection calls. Stop by the billing office of the hospital, even before you are admitted if possible, and ask for their discount and charity program information.
All hospitals offer these services, and they have a tremendous ability to help low to even moderate income families. As part of these services, people are empowered to discount bills, remove charges, or provide free medical care. There may even be a review of the care given to find any errors in the bill.
If you know you can only pay a portion of the bills, and not the entire thing, do not wait for it to go to a debt collector before addressing it. Be proactive to stop a collection call, and ask for a payment plan as soon as you even think you may be struggling in the future. Many hospitals may call this form of financial aid as a "small payment process" to be set up, which is really a plan in which you make small payments against a larger amount.
Speak to a medical billing advocate. An advocate can offer you many services. They can review your bill for errors, advise you to your rights against debt collectors, negotiate charges and fees, and more. Learn more how a medical billing advocate can help you save on and reduce hospital bills.
Get an attorney. If all else fails, speak to an attorney to deal with your case on a contingency basis. This means they will not charge for any legal advice they give on how to prevent the hospital debt collection agency from contacting you. Many attorneys will decide to take a case against a hospital for the publicity in itself, as it gives PR to their firm. Find a listing of free lawyers and their services, all of which can help patients that are facing phone calls from hospital debt collectors.
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