Settling Medical Debt With A Collection Attorney
The practice of medical debt collection often involves disputes of an entirely different nature than those found in other consumer debt cases. One of the most common disputes is that the debtor’s bill was supposed to be “covered” or “written off” under a community care or charity care program offered by many health care providers.
Understanding Medical Debt Collection
Unpaid medical bills will eventually find their way to the courtroom because the debtor did not pay for the services provided when receiving medical treatment, typically because the debtor did not have health insurance when receiving medical care. Once the case goes to court, collection attorneys are seeing a common dispute – “I had community care coverage” or “charity care was supposed to pay for this.”
“Community care” or “charity care” is a policy of tax-exempt health care providers, including many hospitals, clinics, and other providers, that certain patients will be offered free or reduced cost health care services based on the patient’s financial circumstances. Community and charity care programs are determined by a health care provider and essentially means “writing off” some or all of a patient’s bill due to financial hardship. These programs are not a form of payment or insurance coverage. Not every health care provider offers these types of programs, and the ones that do will vary in their qualification requirements.
Often times when a patient is seen at a hospital there is more than one health care provider or hospital providing services. For instance, a patient who does not have health insurance arrives at a hospital for a scheduled hip surgery. Not only will the patient receive services from the hospital nursing staff, but also from the anesthesiologist and the surgeon. The patient has already completed an application for community care with the hospital and the hospital has determined that the patient qualifies for a complete write-off of their hospital bill.
Since the anesthesiologist is not an employee of the hospital, but works for a separate practice group and uses the hospital only as a location to provide services, the hospital’s “write-off” does not apply to services provided by the anesthesiologist. Therefore, the patient later receives a bill from the anesthesiologist’s office regarding the charges that need payment.
How Collection Attorneys Help
Over a year goes by and the patient still does not pay for the services provided by the anesthesiologist. Eventually, the anesthesiologist’s office hires a collection attorney to file a legal action for non-payment of the anesthesia bill. The patient appears in court and argues that he/she had community care “coverage” from the hospital and his/her bill was “written off.”
There is no requirement stating that a health care provider must offer free or reduced-cost care through any program simply because that patient received it from another entity. Attorneys representing health care providers in collections cases are aware of this common dispute asserted by patients/debtors and are able to effectively explain the concept of programs like this to the court, as it is not a valid legal defense in most medical debt collection cases.