Hospitals, doctors and medical billing companies make mistakes all the time, but a Credit.com reader named Cheri told us about her especially challenging case. Cheri’s adult son was born with severe autism, she wrote recently in a comment responding to a Credit.com story. While visiting family in New Hampshire, her son was hospitalized for severe medical complications.
“We are thankful that his life was saved,” Cheri writes.
But the hospital was not part of her son’s insurance company network, which is based in California. So he quickly racked up huge medical bills “which he will never in his lifetime be able to pay,” says Cheri.
The bills went into collections. As if that wasn’t bad enough, now those unpaid bills are showing up on the credit reports of Cheri and her husband, who has the same name as their disabled son. Checking your credit report regularly can be the key to getting the problem fixed quickly, and the Credit Report Card can give you free access to spotting errors without having to order a full credit report every month, which can be pricey.
[Credit Score Tool: Get your free credit score and report card from Credit.com]
“What can we do to get these medical bills … removed from our credit reports?” Cheri asks.
This type of problem is surprisingly common for relatives with the same name, especially if both family members share the same address, says Barry Paperno, Credit.com’s credit scoring expert. Collection agencies and credit bureaus start by checking an individual’s name and address, Paperno explains. If those two match, they often don’t bother to check other pieces of data — like birthdates or Social Security numbers — that might show the relatives are actually two different people. Besides, there’s no requirement that the doctor or hospital give such identifying data to debt collectors in the first place.
“It comes as no surprise that this type of mixup would happen,” Paperno says. With a shared name and maybe a shared address, “there’s more of a chance that things can get mixed up.
[Related Article: How to Fix a Credit Report Mistake Fast]
How to untangle these two separate credit files? Here are some tips:
1) Verify the debt. Ask the collections company to send you their paperwork on the debt, and request documentation of the bill from the hospital. Inspect them closely to make sure there are no mistakes, and that the collections company has the right to collect.
2) Send documentation proving that the father and son are two different people. This may mean using secure mail like FedEx to send copies of their different Social Security cards, passports or birth certificates. Send the documents first to the collections agent, and ask them to remove the parents’ names from the file. If the company ignores you (which they might, Paperno says), follow the same process with the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
3) Disentangle yourselves. First, either the father or son should consider getting a different mailing address. Perhaps the father could have mail sent to his office, or to a post office box. Moving forward, find ways to separate your names. If the father and son have different middle names, include it on all official forms. Also, the son can sign his name “Jr.”, and the father “Sr.”, to help companies distinguish between the two.
[Free Resource: Check your credit score and report card for free with Credit.com]
Image: theilr, via Flickr