Medical debt can be nearly as onerous as the illness that creates the bills. It accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports.
According to a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund that reviews complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers — putting customers’ credit records at risk.
Frequent or repeated calls, calls harassing friends and family, threats of legal action, or the use of abusive language are all over the line. What can you do?
- Be sure you owe: According to Medical Billing Advocates of America and Medical Recovery Services, almost 90 percent of medical bills they review for patients have costly errors. “Request a detailed, itemized statement of charges and scrutinize each line. Look for duplicate charges and charges for items and services you never received,” says Tina Pashley, director of public relations for the two groups, both based in Roanoke, Virginia.
- Speak up: Dispute errors. If the bill is correct and you can’t pay, tell your doctor or hospital administrators. “Negotiate payments. It may be possible to defer payments for a few months or to put you on an interest-free plan where you pay a small amount toward the bill each month,” says Kevin Gallegos, a vice president with Freedom Financial Network in Phoenix.
- Get help: Hospitals and insurance companies often have case workers who can help with bills and resolve payment issues.