Anybody who has had expensive medical treatment lately knows just how relentless medical debt collectors can be. Even if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance, the co-pays and deductibles alone can be difficult to afford. In some cases, debt collectors don’t even wait for the insurance company to process the bill before coming after the patient.
Nobody wants to be hounded while they are recovering from being ill or injured. But, in many cases, debt collectors’ strategies aren’t just inconvenient – they’re illegal.
State governments are beginning to crack down on this bad behavior. Just this month, the Minnesota Attorney General brought charges against Accretive Health, a Chicago-based medical debt collector that operates throughout the country.
The complaint alleges that Accretive used illegal billing and debt collection tactics to recover money from patients. Some of the tactics were shocking. In one case, a doctor had to repeatedly force a debt collector to leave the emergency room. In another, a man lying on a gurney was told by a debt collector that he had to provide payment before he would be allowed to see a doctor. In one of the most alarming incidents, a new mother was told that she could not take her baby home until she paid $800 for the delivery, even though insurance would ultimately cover the cost.
New Jersey Medical Debt Collection
Although these instances happened in Minnesota, they are indicative of a trend that is present in New Jersey as well.
All debt collectors must follow the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. That law prohibits them from, among other things, harassing, misleading or lying to debtors. Debtors who are treated unfairly by collectors may have legal recourse in civil court.
It is also important to understand that debtors don’t have to be held prisoner by overwhelming medical debt. Medical care is expensive, and it is easy to accrue bills you cannot pay for care that you absolutely need. Medical debt can be discharged in bankruptcy. In many cases, bankruptcy is the best way to move on after a serious illness or injury.
Source: Pioneer Press, “New Accretive allegations: Debt collector told new mom to pay or baby would stay,” Bill Salisbury, June 19, 2012.