Getting hurt in an accident frequently leads to unexpected medical bills, such as EMS and hospital bills. These medical providers can be aggressive about getting paid, and often threaten to send their bills to collections. But can hospital bills go to collections? The short answer is yes. And of course, this can result in damaged credit, which is hardly fair for someone who needed the medical care through no fault of their own. Adding insult to injury, many people take the bait from an insurance company offering to settle the claim by paying the outstanding medical bills (and maybe a little more money for the inconvenience of it all). This is usually done before the person really understands the long-term implications of their injuries, leaving themselves on the hook to pay for what might happen down the road.
Fortunately, by taking some time to understand your options after getting injured in an accident, you can avoid falling prey to insurance company tactics. Since understanding the long-term consequences of an injury takes time and effort, it is important to know the steps that can be taken to relieve some of the short-term pressures, like the threat of outstanding medical bills. Here are some tips on how to deal with medical providers that are trying to collect money from you after getting hurt in an accident:
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Take the time to learn about your own auto and other accident insurance
Texas requires car insurance companies to offer certain “no-fault” insurance coverages that are made to give you quick access to money for medical bills and lost wages after a car wreck. Examples are Personal Injury Protection and Medical Payments Coverage. If you have these coverages, you can submit your medical bills to your own auto insurance carrier and receive money to help pay down the most urgent bills. Also, if you have any type of accident insurance, including short- or long-term disability, your policy might help cover some of these unforeseen medical costs.
Make sure the providers have submitted your bills to health insurance
It is very common for emergency medical providers, such as hospitals, emergency medical providers, and ambulances, to try to get paid directly from a settlement with an insurance company rather than from your health insurance company. This seems to be due, in part, to their belief that they can get paid more if they interfere with your injury claim than if they submit your bill to health insurance. But you can take the driver’s seat here and force the medical providers to submit the bill to your health insurance company by following the instructions set forth in chapter 146 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
If done correctly, forcing the medical provider to submit your bill to your health insurance company can dramatically reduce what you owe for the medical care, and also put a stop to any collections efforts the medical provider might be taking or threatening to take against you.
Set-up a payment plan
If you weren’t hurt in an automobile collision, don’t have any no-fault auto insurance coverage, or don’t have health insurance, then setting-up a payment plan with the medical providers can help keep the account out of collections. The healthcare providers will usually accept a very small monthly payment, and work with you to put together a plan that makes sense.
Dispute the validity of the debt
If you disagree with the amount of the debt, or the medical providers are refusing to use your health insurance, you can dispute the validity or accuracy of the debt under the Texas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which can be found in chapter 392 of the Texas Finance Code. By notifying the medical provider or debt collector of the inaccuracy of the debt, the debt collector is required to cease collection efforts and investigate the debt’s validity. This can be a useful method for putting aggressive creditors at bay while you work to evaluate your options.
Complain about surprise or unfair bills
Certain billing practices are prohibited by Texas law, such as surprise billing by out-of-network medical providers. If you receive emergency medical care, only to find out the provider is not part of your health insurance network, you can find yourself staring down the barrel of prohibitively expensive bills. But the Texas Department of Insurance can help you file complaints with the right boards and agencies and mediate disputes with the health care provider to help bring those bills down to something more manageable.
Since 2015, the landscape has changed on how medical debt can impact your credit. Thirty-one states, including Texas, sued the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) over concerns about the accuracy of how these agencies were reporting bad debt. Ultimately, the states entered into a settlement agreement with the reporting agencies, resulting in the launch of the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP). Under the NCAP, medical debt cannot be reported on your credit reports until it is at least 180 days past due. In addition, once the debt is paid, the credit reporting agencies must remove the bad debt from your credit reports. While this initiative is helpful to allow time for personal injury claimants to understand and evaluate their options, it is not an end-all solution to handling the bills they are receiving after an accident.
There are many moving parts in a personal injury claim. Dealing with unforeseen medical expenses, which are often quite high, can be extremely stressful. But taking the time to understand your rights and options, rather than agreeing to accept a quick settlement to pay the bills, can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your case. If you have questions about your medical bills after a personal injury, FVF would be glad to help.