Medical Debt

What Are the Options When You Can’t Pay Medical Debt?

Medical debt presents a major problem for so many in South Florida. The cost of receiving medical care, even with health insurance, can push a financially stable person into debt. Escaping that debt can be a struggle. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has pushed countless consumers further into debt, and with a second wave of the virus likely, the problems could be far from over.

Medical debt is the leading cause of approximately two-thirds (2/3) of all consumer bankruptcies filed. According to a recent poll from U.S. News of approximately 1,500 Americans, just under 40 percent of them reported having serious trouble with managing their medical bills with at least one of these bills being sent to collections. Within this group, seven percent have been sued for collection of their medical debt. Six percent of them said they filed bankruptcy due to medical debt. 

Debt Collection, Debt Relief, Medical Debt

How Long Does Medical Debt Remain on a Person’s Credit Report?

After suffering a serious injury or illness, it can be hard to pay the bills that inevitably follow. Considering how many Americans are now facing medical debt in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many wonder the effects this will have on their credit score and how long the debt will remain on their credit report.

After medical debt has been reported to the credit bureaus, it can remain on a consumer’s credit report for up to seven years. However, a person’s medical debt is not immediately reported to that individual’s credit as soon as it is incurred. It will not be reported to a person’s credit so long as that debt remains with the original service provider. Once a person defaults on the debt and it goes to collection, only then will the medical debt begin to show up on a person’s credit report.

Debt Collection, Medical Debt

Military Hospitals Aggressively Pursuing Medical Debt

Medical debt collectors can be relentless, and when someone has no money or resources to pay medical debts, this process can be extremely stressful. Recent reports have shown that private hospitals are not the only entities persistently collecting on medical debt. Federally backed governmental institutions, including military hospitals, are some of the worst offenders when it comes to pushing patients hard to pay on their medical bills.

A recent piece in The Atlantic highlighted just how dire the situation has gotten for many individuals. A Texas man, Ricardo Gonzalez Jurado, faced aggressive debt collection efforts from Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), a trauma center where he received treatment after sustaining significant injuries on a work site. Gonzalez Jurado did not have the funds to pay his bills in full, so he began a payment plan with the hospital. He kept to the payment plan and even agreed to pay more after the hospital requested higher payments. He later received a letter from BAMC after some time stating that his balance had been paid in full even though he had only paid a portion of the bill at that point. Despite trying to reach the hospital and continuing to send in his payments, BAMC returned his monthly checks.

Bankruptcy Law, Debt Relief, Timothy Kingcade Posts

What to Do if Your Medical Bill Gets Sent to Collections

Medical debt is an issue that plagues many Americans. It only takes one major medical crisis to set a person back hundreds, even thousands of dollars. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in every three Americans report having difficulty paying their medical bills. As a result, a number of these individuals end up having their medical bills go into collections.

If you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with medical debt, remember you are not alone, and you do have options.

Negotiating a Settlement with Service Provider or Debt Collector.

If the debt has not been officially sent to a third-party debt collector but is being collected by the original service provider, the consumer can often work directly with that company to negotiate either a payment plan or settlement of the debt owed. The same could be said for if the debt has been sent to a third-party debt collector, although the entity contacted to negotiate on the debt will be different. This settlement can be done through three different possible methods including:

  • Reduced lump sum payment;
  • Percentage of debt payment;
  • Payment plans.

A lump sum payment is a common method used so long as the person has enough money to pay a large amount. The debt collector often would rather have some level of payment rather than nothing at all, so they will often take a lump sum payment to close the account, although the amount owed may be slightly less than what is paid. Many times, this method is preferred because the creditor or debt collector would rather receive a large lump sum of money immediately instead of keeping the negative account on the books or having the consumer file for bankruptcy where the debt would be discharged.

While very similar to a lump sum payment, some creditors will accept a specific percentage to pay off the debt, such as 25 to 30 percent, while forgiving the remainder owed. However, this type of settlement depends heavily on the balance. If someone owes a small balance, the percentage the creditor will accept may be much higher than the percentage of a large balance. Additionally, if the person is suffering from a financial hardship, the creditor may be more willing to work with that person on a percentage payment. Also, if there is a strong threat of bankruptcy, the creditor may accept a lower payment rather than get nothing through a bankruptcy discharge.

Many medical providers will work with the account holder on payment plans if they are not able to pay the bill off in full right away. However, these agreements need to be worked out timely and not after missing several payments, causing the account to go into default. Both parties must agree on an amount and the terms of the payment plan.

Get any Agreement in Writing.

Whatever settlement is worked out between the creditor/collector and consumer, it is important that this agreement be documented in writing. Without a firm commitment on the amount agreed upon, the consumer will have nothing to hold the collector to in the event they dispute the arrangement. It also gives the consumer something legally enforceable in the event the agreement falls through.

Payments Made but Still Sent to Collections.

The unfortunate fact is even if the consumer is making payments on the debt, the unpaid balance can still be sent to collections. Ultimately, it is a business decision that is made by the medical provider (i.e. – doctor’s office, hospital or dentist). How they handle the account depends on many factors, including how large the balance is, how much is being paid monthly, and how long it will take to finally pay off the amount owed. For example, if the individual owes $15,000 and is only making $10 per month payments, the provider may ultimately find that this is not going to work and could send the claim to collections, even though the $10 monthly payments are being made. This action can be much harder to accomplish if the parties have a written payment agreement, which is why it is extremely important that the payment arrangement be in writing.

Refusal of a Payment Plan.

It is always possible that a medical provider will refuse a payment plan. They are not legally obligated to work with the customer on a payment arrangement. For the most part, medical providers will work out payment arrangements out of goodwill, but if the person asking for the payment plan has failed several times before, they are not legally obligated to work out an agreement. The same goes for a collection agency. However, collectors do often work on commission, and because of this, they will often accept a payment plan that will pay off the obligation quickly, closing the account, and getting them paid.

How Medical Debt is Handled in Bankruptcy.

In bankruptcy, medical debt is treated the same as credit card debt. Medical bills are listed as general unsecured debt and can be easily wiped out in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.  Making the decision to file for bankruptcy is never an easy one.  It can be difficult to get past some of the myths associated with filing for bankruptcy. Sometimes by waiting, an individual facing a lot of debt can find himself or herself in an even worse situation. Filing for bankruptcy can help protect valuable assets, including your home, car, IRA and social security.  It will put an end to wage garnishment and any lawsuit being filed to collect on the debt, thanks to the protections of the automatic stay.

Those who have experienced illness or injury and found themselves overwhelmed with medical debt should contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney. In bankruptcy, medical bills are considered general unsecured debts just like credit cards. This means that medical bills do not receive priority treatment and can easily be discharged in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws were created to help people resolve overwhelming debt and gain a fresh financial start. Bankruptcy attorney Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade Garcia McMaken, P.A. has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade Garcia McMaken website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.

Related Resources:

https://www.inquirer.com/health/consumer/challenge-medical-bill-debt-collection-tips-20190610.html

https://www.growingfamilybenefits.com/negotiate-medical-bills-settle/

Bankruptcy Law, Debt Relief, Timothy Kingcade Posts

Medical Debt and Collections – What It Does to Your Credit Score

It only takes one medical crisis to set you back thousands of dollars.  In fact, medical debt is the number one reason people file for bankruptcy.  Many times, consumers have no idea that the medical bill is coming or how much it will be.  In fact, according to a study from Consumer Reports, more than one-fourth of Americans who have health insurance have received one of these “surprise” medical bill in the mail.

In the past, as soon as an individual failed to pay a medical bill, the medical service provider could report the individual to a credit reporting agency.

However, new rules for the big three credit agencies, which include Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, now require these agencies to wait 180 days before reporting an unpaid medical bill to a credit reporting agency. This waiting period gives individuals time to properly investigate the bill. If, after a dispute, the insurance company pays the bill, but the provider has already reported the claim to a credit reporting agency, the default will need to be taken off the credit report.

Unpaid medical bills affect your credit score. Typically, doctors and hospitals do not report debts to credit bureaus. Instead, they turn their unpaid bills over to a debt collector and it is the collection agency that reports them. Just one collection account can cause a good credit score to drop 50 to 100 points. Medical collections are no exception. Medical debt can remain on your credit report for up to seven years from the date of delinquency.

It is important that you routinely monitor your credit report to ensure there are no inaccuracies.  If a claim has been properly disputed with the medical provider or insurance company but still appears on the credit report, you will need to contact the medical provider to get proof of payment and then submit this proof to get the debt removed from your credit report.

If you receive a medical bill that you are not able to pay, it is extremely important that you do not ignore the bill. If you are not able to make a full payment on the bill, it is important that you communicate this fact as soon as possible with the medical provider. Most healthcare providers are willing to work with you. At the end of the day, these providers would prefer to receive payment in lieu of going through collections to get their money.

Ignoring a medical bill can result in a lawsuit being filed against you. If you fail to address the legal case, the medical provider will get a judgment by default and will be able to garnish your wages as a result. If a lawsuit has been filed against you for an outstanding medical debt, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.

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Those who have experienced illness or injury and found themselves overwhelmed with medical debt should contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney. In bankruptcy, medical bills are considered general unsecured debts just like credit cards. This means that medical bills do not receive priority treatment and can easily be discharged in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws were created to help people resolve overwhelming debt and gain a fresh financial start. Bankruptcy attorney Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade Garcia McMaken, P.A. has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade & Garcia website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.