By: Robert J. Nahoum
You were in an accident or became sick. You had no choice but to seek medical attention even though you are uninsured or underinsured. You’ve been slapped with a hefty medical bill that just can’t afford to pay. The collection agencies have been calling, writing letters and harassing you. You have explained over and over again that you can’t afford to pay them but your pleas have gone ignored. Now, you have been served was a summons and complaint, the doctor or hospital has sued you for the medical debt.
If you have been sued for a doctor’s bill hospital bill the first thing you need to determine is who it is that’s actually suing you. Have you been sued by the doctor, the hospital or some company that you’ve never even heard of before?
It often happens that medical debts are sold to “debt buyers” who buy up portfolios of old debt from hospitals, doctors and laboratories for pennies on the dollar. The debt buyers then try to collect the full amount from consumers, plus interest, penalties, late fees, attorney’s fees and whatever other kinds of fees they can dream up.
In a debt collection lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden to prove that the consumer is responsible for the debt. To meet this burden, it must prove that: (1) it has the right to sue you; (2) the debt is yours; and (3) you owe the amount for which you were sued.
In medical debt collection lawsuits, proving the amounts claimed as due can present a problem for the plaintiff. According to some studies, more than 80% of medical bills contain errors including erroneous charges, double billings and even fraudulent and abusive charges. In a lawsuit for a medical bill, it is the plaintiff’s burden to demonstrate the accuracy of each and every charge.
If you are sued for a medical bill you have the opportunity to defend yourself and demand that the plaintiff prove through accurate and admissible evidence each and every charge.
Additionally, if the plaintiff is a hospital, you can challenge the hospital’s compliance with New York’s medical billing laws and programs. These laws afford patients with many protections and billing options including:
- Negotiated installments and settlement with limited amounts of interest on unpaid balances;
- Medical debt collectors, hospitals, and other health care providers cannot force the sale of a patient’s home, or foreclose on it, in order to collect an unpaid medical;
- If a hospital outsources its debt collection to a collection agency, the collection agency must obtain the hospital’s written consent before commencing a lawsuit;
- Collection activities are not permitted and are illegal against individuals who are eligible for Medicaid at the time of their health care service;
- Hospitals need to have a sliding-scale payment schedule for both uninsured and low to moderate income patients;
- Hospitals need to disclose to patients what financial assistance programs they offer upon the patient’s admission to the hospital. This information and needs to be stated on their bills and in various notices that must be posted throughout the hospital;
- Hospitals must lower their fees and charges for low and moderate income patients who have no health insurance, for those patients who have used up all of their health coverage and also for those who can demonstrate an inability to pay the hospital’s full bill.
- For low and moderate income patients who have no health insurance and patients who have used up all of their health coverage, hospitals may not charge more than the rate paid by the hospital’s highest-volume health insurer for reimbursement for the same services.
Federal debt collection law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides consumers an added level of protection when the medical debt is being collected by a third party collection agency or a debt buyer. The FDCPA precludes third party debt collectors from using false, misleading, deceptive and harassing debt collection tactics. If a debt buyer or third party debt collection agency violates the FDCPA, the consumer can sue for statutory damages up to $1,000.00 plus actual damages (like pain and suffering) and the consumer’s attorney’s fees.
Medical debt can surely be overwhelming. Patients can understandably feel helpless especially when the medical debt has come to the point of a debt collection lawsuit. But, with 80% of medical bills containing errors and armed with consumer protection laws, consumers have options and recourse.
If you need help settling or defending a debt collection law suit, stopping harassing debt collectors or suing a debt collector, contact us today to see what we can do for you.