Your Rights Against Medical Debt Collectors[yoast-breadcrumb]
Your Rights Against Medical Debt Collectors
Medical debt can be incredibly stressful and feel overwhelming. But there are laws in place to protect you from harassment and abuse from debt collectors. This article will explain your rights when dealing with medical debt collectors so you can advocate for yourself.
The Debt Validation Process
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have the right to validate any medical debt. That means the collector must provide proof that you actually owe the debt, like an itemized bill from the hospital or doctor’s office.
To start the validation process, you need to send the debt collector a written request asking them to verify the debt. Make sure to keep a copy of this letter for your records. Once they receive your request, the collector must stop all collection activities until they send you proof that the debt is valid.
If they can’t verify the debt or miss the deadline to respond (30 days), the collector must stop all collection efforts and remove the debt from your credit report. This is a powerful tool to stop harassment for debts you don’t actually owe.
Limits on Credit Reporting
Debt collectors cannot report a medical debt to the credit bureaus until they have attempted to collect payment directly from you. This prevents unfair damage to your credit from medical bills you never had a chance to pay.
If a collector does report a medical debt prematurely, you can dispute the item with the credit bureaus. The collector must then conduct an investigation and remove the item if they cannot verify it.
Collectors are restricted in how often they can contact you about a debt:
- No more than 1 time per day
- No calls before 8 am or after 9 pm
- Calls must stop after you send a written request
If a collector violates these contact limits, you can sue them for harassment. Be sure to document details of any excessive calls or contacts.
Statute of Limitations
Medical debts have a statute of limitations, meaning collectors can no longer sue you to recover payment after a certain period of time. This ranges from 3-6 years depending on your state.
You can find your state’s statute of limitations for medical debts here. Make sure not to restart the clock by making a payment on an old debt.
The No Surprises Act
This new federal law protects patients from surprise medical bills when they unintentionally get care from an out-of-network provider. It bans providers from sending surprise bills and limits how much you can be charged in those situations.
If you get an unexpected bill for out-of-network care, don’t just pay it. Dispute the charges under the No Surprises Act so your insurer and provider negotiate fair payment.
Seeking Legal Help
If you feel a debt collector has violated your rights or the harassment has become severe, consider talking to a consumer rights attorney. They can help you understand your options, like filing lawsuits against the collector or settling debts.
Many attorneys offer free consultations and some may work on contingency, meaning they only get paid if you win your case. Try contacting legal aid organizations in your area if you cannot afford an attorney.
If a medical debt collector is breaking the law, file complaints with these government agencies:
- State Attorney General’s office
- Federal Trade Commission
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Complaints create a paper trail of violations that helps regulators identify and punish unlawful collectors. Be sure to document details like dates, names, what happened, etc.
Negotiating and Settling Debt
If you owe a valid medical debt, you can negotiate with collectors to reduce the amount or create a reasonable payment plan. Get any agreement for paying the debt in writing before sending money.
Be wary of collectors who pressure you to pay the full amount upfront or make false threats about garnishing your wages. Know your rights so you don’t fall victim to their abusive tactics.
You can also consider debt settlement, where an attorney negotiates to pay a portion of your debt in exchange for the collector removing it from your credit report. Just make sure to consult with a reputable attorney.
Avoiding Medical Debt
While you have protections once medical debt goes to collections, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Here are some tips:
- Ask for itemized bills and only pay for services you received
- Negotiate costs and payment plans upfront with providers
- Review all medical bills for errors and dispute inaccurate charges
- Contact hospital financial assistance programs
- Maintain good insurance coverage in case of health emergencies
Dealing with medical debt can be challenging, but knowledge is power. Understand your rights and don’t hesitate to speak up. There are people and resources available to help you – you just need to reach out.