Home > Credit Score > Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

Comments 3 Comments

Sometimes bad credit happens to good people. A reader recently wrote to us about a problem she was having with a medical collection account on her credit reports. While traveling, she saw a physician who misdiagnosed her and the following day she wound up in the emergency room. She never received a bill from the original doctor, though she did send him a dispute letter. She says:

[Featured Products: Compare credit score, report, and monitoring plans at Credit.com]

I did this because I was upset that I was sent away and then had to spend thousands at the emergency room a few days later.  I figured that it was worth a try and that if he really wanted to argue the small $80 charge that I would pay it if they sent the statement.

What happened next is not unusual.

RECOMMENDED:
FREE CREDIT CHECK TOOL

Credit Report Card
Check your credit for free with this great tool from Credit.com. It offers expert advice on how to manage your credit. And you can return every 30 days for unlimited free updates.
Sign Up Here »

About a week ago, I receive a letter from a collection agency. .. I sent in an official “Dispute” letter to them due to the fact that I have never received a statement from the Physician’s office. .. The collection agency sent me a statement from the doctor’s office that had the wrong address on it.  The city was not even a city where I have ever been before.  I am not sure how they would have a complete incorrect address, as I filled out paperwork that has my current address on it, not to mention my insurance information has the correct address on it.   At this point I really do not know what to do.

Should I just pay the small bill ($88) to the collection agency and request that they do not turn in any of this information into the Credit Bureau?  Or if I keep disputing this charge do you think that I have a chance of getting it removed due to the proof of the wrong address on the statements and copies of all of my letters? “  – Marilyn (name changed for privacy)

Sadly, having a collection appear on your credit report for a medical bill you never received is all too common. There is no federal law that specifically prevents this practice, and over the years we’ve received many complaints from individuals for whom the first time they heard about about an unpaid medical bill was from the collection agency asking them to pay it.

[Free Resource: Check your credit for free before applying for a credit card]

I spoke with Marilyn and we discussed her options. She already understood that even if she paid the collection account it would stay on her credit reports and could hurt her credit scores for a long time. I pointed out to her that FICO ignores collection accounts with original balances of less than $100 when calculating credit scores, but that’s only in more recent FICO scoring models.

I explained that the collection agency may be willing to agree not to report it if she would pay it in full, but I told her that it was essential to get any agreement like that in writing before she paid. Otherwise she would be stuck – and have no negotiating leverage. Collection agencies certainly aren’t required to agree to those kinds of requests, but it never hurts to ask.

At that point, Marilyn said that the collection agency had been pretty pleasant to deal with so she decided to give it a try. Here’s what happened next:

They informed me that I would not be able to receive such letter because they do not send anything out like that in writing.  These people are ruthless.  She said that they would be turning everything into the Credit Bureau by the end of the month.  I guess at this point do I continue to dispute the debt?  If I contact the Doctor’s office directly can they do anything at this point since they have sold the debt to this collection company?

At that point, my suggestion was that Marilyn talk with the doctor’s office and try to get them to take the account back from the collection agency. I told her she could agree to pay the doctor’s office directly. Considering that they never sent her a bill, it seemed like a reasonable request. She agreed, and soon after she shared news of her success:

I have just gotten off of the phone with the Physician’s office.  They have agreed to call the collections office that they turned my debt in to and withdraw my amount.  I asked for written confirmation… Hopefully nothing has been turned into the credit bureau as of yet…

I cannot thank you enough for all of your assistance that you have provided regarding this issue.  I have learned that in the future I will probably not “get smart” and dispute a doctor’s office visit unless it is something that is very significant.  I have never had so much stress over $88 dollars in my life!

While that is great news, what worked for Marilyn may not work for you. If you are in a similar situation, don’t hesitate to contact a consumer law attorney with experience in credit reporting issues for help.

Do you have a success story of your own to share? Send it to me at creditexperts@credit.com.

Image: Joelk75, via Flickr

[Related Article: Correcting Your Credit Report]

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Pingback: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit … | Medical Debt Collections()

  • Erin McIntyre

    I just received collections notices for my college aged son’s hospitalization in March of this year. Neither of us received a bill from ANY doctor or even the hospital. He had full coverage, wherein we wouldn’t expect to receive a bill. Now they are ruining his credit. The woman I spoke to with the collection agency was horrible, and stated we should have contacted the “creditors” from the Explanations of Benefits from the Primary Insurance. However, the Secondary Insurance was to cover the balance of the debt. I have worked in medical billing and know that it takes quite some time for both entities to finish their reimbursements. This doctor’s office went too far. What can we do to keep my son’s credit in tact?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Erin – This is a very common problem and you’re not the first one to run into a situation where a medical bill is in collections before you have the chance to investigate or pay it.

      However, you do have at least rights. The collection agency by law must verify the debt upon your request. Ask them, in writing, to verify the debt. You also have the right to dispute it on his/your credit reports. Go ahead and get free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. If the collection account is on there, then dispute it in writing (not online) if you believe any information is inaccurate and incomplete. Then use our Free Credit Report Card to monitor you/ your son’s credit scores.

      But ultimately what you have to get at here is why these charges wound up in collections and if there is anything you can do about it. I’d suggest you read this companion article I wrote, An Insider’s Guide to Fighting Medical Billing Mistakes, for suggestions on how to do that. They may have failed to bill your secondary insurance or may be trying to balance bill you, either of which is problematic. Once you find out what the issue is then you can try to resolve it. Ultimately, as you know, your goal is to get it off your credit reports and hopefully this article will help you understand how to do that.

      And please be sure to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They need to hear what kinds of problems patients are experiencing with regards to medical collection accounts on credit reports.

  • Pingback: Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly | Credit.com News + Advice()

  • Scott HIgbee

    I had hand surgery last September and started OT in October. When I went to the therapy office, which is run by a large public hospital in town, the office staff took my insurance information and told me and wrote on the financial form that I had a zero co-pay. My doctor wanted aggressive therapy and my therapist (who is wonderful) had me come twice a week for months. Then in March I received a bill that showed the full billed amount, the amount paid by my insurance, the adjusted out amount and a co-pay of $440. This looks to be for only the first few months of therapy. I believe my ability to make informed consent was taken away from me. I would have gone less frequently or at least stopped twice a week sessions before I did. I have informed the hospital of their error and had some assistance from someone from my insurance company. Someone who works with my wife at a home health agency used to work in the hospital’s billing department. She stated that the hospital is in the wrong and has the responsbility of telling the correct bill amount at the beginning of services. The hospital’s response is that it is my responsibility to know my insurance plan. I trusted them to tell me the right information. The person with the insurance company stated that they should have known that there was a co-pay when they ran my insurance information. What are my rights? Thank you.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team