Healthcare is expensive. With an average doctor visit around $85, an average trip to the emergency room around $1200, and an average day long stay in the hospital costing nearly $4,000 in some states, it’s no wonder almost 1 in 6 families report having trouble paying their medical bills. The Affordable Care Act has eased the burden for some in recent years, but in 2014, 64 million adults still reported struggling to pay down medical debt.
Medical debt is a crushing burden for many. It comprises nearly half of all outstanding debt in the US, and is also the leading cause of bankruptcy. Over forty million American’s have past due medical debt on their credit reports. In fact, 22% of those 40 million ONLY have past due medical bills reporting negatively on their credit reports. This means hard working Americans who otherwise responsibly pay their bills are buckling under the weight of soaring healthcare costs.
Not As Scary As It Sounds
The medical debt picture in America may seem bleak, but there are some bright spots. In 2014, FICO, the most widely used credit score, changed the weight assigned to bad medical debt in calculating their score. Some consumers saw a healthy bump in their credit score of 25 points. More recently, credit companies have been required to wait until medical debt is at least 180 past due before reporting on it. This new rule provides a much needed window for people to figure out what is covered by insurance, and what they must pay out of pocket.
It sounds inescapable, but most people’s credit scores are never impacted at all by medical debt. Many healthcare providers don’t report to the credit bureaus, and medical debt only appears on your credit report when it is so delinquent that it is sent to collections. From there, collection agencies report to the credit bureaus, and your credit score will be impacted.
If you have delinquent medical debt that goes to a collection agency, you will be pursued by a debt collector as you would for any other bad debt. Collection efforts will likely start with letters and phone calls. Federal law protects consumers from being harassed by debt collectors. If you send a collector a letter requesting that they cease contact, they must stop contacting you, although you will still be liable for the amount owed. A debt collector may also contact neighbors or relatives to try and find out how to reach you, although they cannot contact a third party for any other reason, besides your attorney.
Debt collectors will aggressively pursue payment, but they are required to follow several rules. They must not use fake names, or imply that they are attorneys or other government representatives, they must not threaten you, use obscenities, contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., refuse to identify themselves, publish your name, or misrepresent the amount that you owe.
A collector may sue you in order to collect the amount owed. Once a collector has a judgment against you, they may be able to garnish your wages or seize your property to satisfy the debt. Ohio exempts a judgement for past due medical debt from being used to force the sale of your home.
The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act protect you from abusive or harassing collection practices. If you’ve been the victim of abusive debt collection practices, you can sue a debt collector for up to a year after the violation. For help dealing with medical debt or pursuing a claim against an abusive debt collector, contact Luftman, Heck, and Associates at (216) 586-6600