Hospital Debt: Know Your Rights

by tylercook on March 4, 2013

Dealing with an unexpected illness or injury can result in a large hospital bill that quickly becomes overwhelming and stressful as you try to focus on your health. Even for those lucky enough to have health insurance, a single night in the hospital will create a burdensome bill with a total reaching in the thousands. For those poor souls with a serious health complications that require multiple hospital stays and treatments, your medical expenses can quickly eat up your savings and leave you drowning in debt for years. In some cases, the hospital may come after you for nonpayment by using a collection agency or a filing a collections lawsuit.

During these trying times, you should know and understand your rights to help protect yourself and your assets from dirty tactics often used by debt collectors.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, bill collectors cannot harass you. Actions that can warrant a case under this act include:

Contacting you while at work
Contacting you before 8am or after 9am
Speak to your family, friends or coworkers about your hospital debt
Threaten you with harm or violence
Use obscene language
Publish your name and information on a list of people owning debt
Threaten you with a lawsuit when there is no intention of going through with it
Continue to contact you after receiving a letter informing their company to stop contacting you.
Threaten to have you arrested, seize your proper or garnish your wages

The debit collectors are required to send you a written validation notice explaining how much is owed and to whom the amount is owed to within five days after their initial contact.

Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices

This statutes helps guard individuals against bill collectors and medical providers intentionally deceiving your. Each state has an Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices statute to protect individuals from scams, abuse and fraud.

Truth in Lending Act

The federal Truth in Lending Act states that consumers have the right to know every detail of their payment plan including late fees or interest that may apply and what actions will be taken if you happen to miss a payment. Under this act you are provided with the above rights if:

A payment plan was set up to pay the debt with at least four payments
You were charged interest on your payments
The hospital gave you the option of deferring your debt
The hospital extends credit regularly

HIPAA and the Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — more commonly known as HIPAA — states that bill collectors, credit bureaus and medical providers must keep all medical information private. If you have discovered your medical information in your credit report or a second party, you might just have a case against them under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The best way to protect yourself against unjust tactics implemented by hospital debt collectors is to know all your rights. This includes the aforementioned federal protections as well as additional protections issued by your state. Remember that debt collection regulations and laws vary by state, and debt collectors and medical providers typically won’t inform the patient about the possible actions they can take to try to collect the debit.

Byline: Tyler recommends visiting if you ever find yourself under a pile of loans due to medical, education, or home-related expenses.




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