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If you think you’re immune to damage from a collection account on your credit report because you pay your bill on time, think again. Medical bills that you don’t know about could be hurting your credit, and the odds are not in your favor. An estimated 30 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills in 2010, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

We’ve written extensively about medical bills and the havoc they can create on your credit. You’ve responded by sharing your stories about sky-high bills, insurance processing delays and mistakes, and dealing with collection agencies who collect this type of debt.

Here we pull together our best advice for dealing with these problems.

Unfortunately, some patients are under the impression that medical bills somehow don’t affect their credit, or are treated differently when their credit scores are calculated. That’s simply not true. A single collection account – even for a $15 copay – can cause your score to plummet. Just ask the Cobbs, a couple in Illinois whose plan to refinance their home was derailed when they discovered their credit scores were too low. The cause? A billing snafu resulted in them being sent to collections for several copays.


And don’t think that just because you have insurance, you’re immune. Even with excellent insurance, your bills may not be covered, as one man found out when he got an $83,000 bill from an “out of network” surgeon after he accidentally sliced off his finger with a table saw.

The Major Myths

Make sure you review one of our most popular articles on this topic, where we debunk four medical billing myths that may wind up costing you big time:

Myth 1: As long as I am making payments on a medical bill, it can’t be sent to collections.

Myth 2: I have to be notified before a medical bill is turned over for collections.

Myth 3: Medical collection accounts are treated differently than other types of collection accounts when credit scores are calculated.

Myth 4: I need to pay off these debts to clean up my credit.

There’s no way to completely prevent one of these bills from turning into a collection account on your credit, and there is no sure-fire cure for fixing it when it does happen. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit by helplessly while it destroys your credit rating.

You Have Rights

Anytime you are contacted by a collection agency, you have the right to written confirmation of the debt, as well as the right to dispute it. That’s your right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors aren’t allowed to break the law when contacting you about a bill from a doctor or hospital. If you know your rights, you’re in a better position to stand up for them.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you also have the right to dispute inaccurate information on your credit reports. But you have to know how to properly dispute an item on your credit report to get results.

Routine office visits should be straightforward, especially when all you owe is an office visit copay. But as one of our readers who worked in medical billing for many years pointed out, it’s often up to the patient to double check that all the charges are billed and paid properly.

If you really want to understand why medical billing is such a mess, you’ll want to read our interview with a physician who is speaking out about the problems he and his patients encounter all the time: An Insider’s Guide to the Insane World Of Medical Bills. Be sure to check out his tips for saving money on prescriptions, even if you have insurance.

Sent to collections over a disputed bill, or before you even received a bill? One of our readers was able to stop a medical bill from damaging her credit. Other readers have even replicated her success. And don’t miss our piece about how to fix your medical bill problems.

Help for Hospital Bills

Hospital bills totaling thousands of dollars aren’t unusual. If you get a very large bill you can’t afford to pay, you first want to find out whether you are eligible for financial assistance. New rules in the Affordable Care Act offer some protection for patients at nonprofit hospitals.

What if a hospital is pressuring you to pay more than you can afford? After Michelle racked up a $7,000 hospital bill she was told she needed to pay $200 a month immediately. The problem? On her disability income, that was simply impossible. Michelle needed advice on how to negotiate her bill and to make sure she was getting thefinancial assistance she needed.

Or maybe you simply believe you were overcharged. Blake was billed almost $2,000 for a short visit to the ER for a sprained pinky finger, and wanted to know what his options were for protecting his credit if he refused to pay the bill, which he found outrageous.

Another option is to to try to negotiate down the balance on a large hospital bill. After he received a $30,000 bill from a visit to the ER when his daughter injured her leg, Brett Goldstein became something of an expert on how to negotiate medical bills. He shared what he learned with our readers.

And if you have been in a car accident, you will need to make sure you aren’t blindsided by bills that wind up in collections.

Can Congress Help?

Congress is considering the Medical Debt Responsibility Act, proposed legislation that would require medical bills to be removed from credit reports 45 days after they are paid, provided the original amount is $2,500 or less. It has bipartisan support, but has been slow to make its way through the legislative process. Learn more about Medical Debt Responsibility Act and how you can weigh in. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also examining the issue.

Image: Fotos Gov/BA, via Flickr

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  • Maria

    Do these fall off after 7 years of non-payment? My 822 credit score went bad after 2 brain hemorrhages and now disability so at this point my credit is wrecked for many reasons. I am not in a position to buy anything. It has been already 3 years, and there is no change in sight in my circumstances, can i just wait it out?

    • Gerri Detweiler


      So sorry to hear what you’ve been through!

      Collection accounts (including medical bills that go to collection) can only be reported for 7 years and 180 days from the date you fell behind on the original bill. After that time they must not be reported. As long as the collection agency has accurately reported the date, this will happen automatically.

      The only way they can affect your credit longer than that is if they sue you and get a judgment against you. The judgment would have its own reporting period.

      • http://credit.com Suzanne M Stone

        I have the situation of receiving several hospital bills, turned into a collection agency (who assigned their own account number to them) sending me a letter that they were taking me to court. I paid the bill, in full, prior to the court date, and called to make sure the court date was cancelled as they had been paid in full.
        They assured me they would take care of everything and that the court date would be cancelled. This was in late 1999.
        A week later, I received a letter from the courts saying that they had ruled against me as I did not appear in court. I took the receipt I was given by the collection agency to the court house, but since the account numbers were different, they would not believe me. I then called the collection agency (NCO Financial) who later reported that I had paid the bill to the courts, but did nothing to erase the judgement against me.
        Will this judgement ever go away? tThe debt was paid prior to the court date!

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Suzanne – Sounds like you’ve got a mess on your hands. It also sounds like the judgment creditor (in this case the collection agency) needs to fix this. They can likely correct it by filing a satisfaction of judgment showing it was paid in 1999. Since judgments that are paid or satisfied can be reported for 7 years, reporting it paid should do the trick.

          If they won’t cooperate, I would encourage you to contact a consumer law attorney. If the collection agency broke the law – and it sounds like a possibility here – you may be entitled to damages and the collector will have to pay your attorney’s fees. In fact you may want to consult one anyway before you try to resolve this on your own.

          Will you let us know what happens?

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  • Felicia Tucker

    I surgery done May 2011. Yes I have set up a payment plan for my deductible which it was $1400.00. I sending the payments then they stop sending me my statement. So I didn’t send the payment in. So just received a call from a collection agency tell me I owe 1300.00. I need to pay them $416.00 for three mounts. Which I don’t have right now. I do not understand why they stop sending my statement and did not contact at all. I now have to find a way to get off my credit report. Please Advise me. Thank You:

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Felicia – I wish I had better news for you but the hospital or doctor probably isn’t obligated to send you a statement each month. There simply aren’t any consumer protections here that I am aware of. When the statements stopped you should have called to find out what was going on. (I am not trying to lecture here, just explaining how this works.) So now you are stuck dealing with the collection agency. They aren’t required to accept what you can afford to pay. So you’ll have to try to work with the collection agency to get them to accept what you can afford. Even once it’s paid it will stay on your credit report for seven years. Having said this, you can try to deal with it in this way: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit. Hopefully they will work with you.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Felicia — Did you get the payment plan in writing? Unless the payment plan was agreed to in writing, what likely happened is that the statements were monthly past due statements for the remainder of the balance due. The statements likely stopped after a certain amount of time (typically 3-6 months) because the provider/hospital sent the account to collections. A common misconception about medical bills is that the account can’t be sent to collections if you’re making payments — this isn’t true. Another misconception is that the provider or hospital has to tell you that they’re sending your bill to collections — this isn’t true either. You can read about both of these issues and more here: Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly

      While you can’t stop the hospital from sending the bill to collections, you may be able to negotiate with collector to settle the debt. Two resources that may help you with this:

      Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
      How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills

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  • Kara Carr

    I’ve been paying on a medical bill through a collection agency I still question the charges because when I received the statement in the mail it did not give me any explanation of the charges. The collection agency is trying to do a settlement with me, but they tell me I have 13 mo left to pay it in full. I have been making payments on time, but they are telling me to triple my payments monthly. I don’t know what to do.I feel so helpless because I can’t afford anymore than what I’m paying them.

    • http://getoutofdebt.org Get Out of Debt Guy

      Since you made payment arrangements already you admitted to the debt so it’s too late to dispute it but it seems like what you really need is a statement of the debt and payments to show how the payments are being applied.

      I think what you are saying is the tripple payment offer was for the settlement. If you can’t afford that then just keep making your regular monthly payments.

  • http://yahoo charles ott

    my question is this,i had bypass an heart operation a year an half ago.now I;m being bother day today from collection agency.I;m on social security do to the fact i can not go back to working .the doctor don;t want me to go back. I was a over the road truck driver an made a good living but that is gone for good now.my problem is that I;m unable to pay what these collection agency want do to the fact it takes all the money from social security to live a pay the bills.I keep telling these people there is no money to give an when I do get back on feet I;ll pay them but they don;t seam to care.I have tried to find the help on this but just don:t known were to look for sure. any ideas or help will be helpful.

  • steven

    I have been paying the hospital directly every month on the bills owed and now they sent it to collection. They cash every check, everytime I send it so I dont know what to do.
    Seems like they are trying to rip us off even more.
    As well, I’m thinking of taking the Dr. to court or small claims because it was his mistake that resulted in the second hospitalization.
    What advice

  • Josy

    I admit, I forgot to pay off the balance of one my hospital bill and 4 months later the bill (in the amount of $125.00) got turned into collection. Is there anything I can do to avoid having this reported on my credit? This was a stupid mistake to forget.


    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Unfortunately, once the debt is sent to collections, the collection record will remain in your credit report for seven years from the date the original account initially went into serious delinquency status (typically the 180+ day late mark). At this point, the only way to have it removed is if the collection were reported in error. You can read more about low dollar collections, how to handle them and their impact to your credit scores in this article:

      A Debt Collector Came After Me for $8.97

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  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Hi Sharon — You’re not alone, we hear this type of story from consumers quite often. Fortunately,Gerri has covered this topic in-depth here on Credit.com. To help you decide how best to handle this medical bill, including how to negotiate the debt and your options, the following resources may help:
    How to Fix Your Medical Bill Problems
    Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
    How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills
    An Insider’s Guide to the Insane World of Medical Bills

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  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Yes, the physician’s offices do receive less if they have to pay the collection agency to collect on their behalf. Typically they do send bills first though. Sometimes there is a mistake (they have an old address, for example) and sometimes the patient doesn’t pay close attention, figuring that insurance will cover it. But we still get complaints from patients who say they never got a bill before it went to collections, and sometimes it is impossible to figure out what happened.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Possibly. i wrote about this topic recently in this article: Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?. Hope you find that helpful.

    Remember, most collection accounts can be negotiated! Plus you may want to try to get the physician to pull it back from collections so you can pay them directly and avoid the damage to your credit reports. We wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Susan – This happens a lot more than you’d think and is one of the reasons we encourage consumers to follow up with both the hospital and your insurance provider to make sure all of the charges are paid. If they aren’t, and the bill is sent to collections, it ends up hurting you in the long run.

    In most cases the hospital will send notices informing you that the bill is delinquent and needs to be paid. If at all possible it’s best to try and pay the debt or negotiate a payment plan. Even then, the hospital/provider doesn’t have to agree to accept monthly payments or work out an extended payment plan, and in many cases they prefer full payment over monthly installments. Legally, they are within their rights and can send the account to collections if the bill isn’t paid according to the initial terms that were signed and agreed upon prior to the procedure. If insurance doesn’t pay it, it falls to the patient to cover the difference.

    As far as additional collection fees go, collectors are legally able to charge interest and fees but they cannot be excessive. Exactly how much they can charge will vary by state so you’ll need to check with your state attorney general to be sure.

    Gerri has written about medical debts, your rights and how to handle medical collections when you can’t stop the provider from turning them over quite extensively. To explain this problem, and your options, the following resources may help:

    Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly
    Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
    Can I Stop a Medical Bill from Going to Collections?

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  • Christie

    We have been making regular payments on a medical bill for 1 1/2 yrs. In August we stopped receiving statements and received a check that had overpayment/refund on it. We had no idea what was going on. Then we received a new EOB from our insurance with recalulated benefits that said it was paid and we were due the refund. Now, I have just recieved a statement from the hospital with everything reversed. And the balance includes the amount of the refund. I also received another EOB identical to the original amounts from my insurance. Can they do that to us? Tell us our bill is paid and then bill us again?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Christie —
      Have you contacted the hospital to ask for an explanation? That would be a good first step. Then, you should contact your insurer. If it turns out you still owe the hospital, you may be able to negotiate. This post has some tips: Is It Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now taking complaints about collection practices. You can file one here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov… And please let us know what happens.

  • Lauren

    Im 21 and I got sick and was in the hospital for a month and my insurance did not cover 1 night in the ER so I was charged with over 6,000 dollars sent to collections. what do I do…
    ? where do I start?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Lauren – What state do you live in? First step is to ask for an itemized bill listing detailed charges. Then ask the hospital how to apply for financial assistance. You may qualify to have the bill reduced substantially.

  • arincon

    I live in Wisconsin, and had a baby last year. Halfway during my pregnancy, my husband’s job switched insurance plans, and my doctor was not in their network. However, since I was past 20 weeks in my pregnancy, they allowed me to apply to keep my doctor as in-network. I was led to told my hospital would be in-network, as well as my doctor. Now I have about $10,000 in bills, some already in collections, despite having insurance. The insurance company says that I was overcharged, and they will not pay more than they believe it should cost, and the clinic says they will not lower the amount owed, and despite re-coding, my bills have only increased. We only make about $32,000 a year, and will never be able to pay off these bills. What can we do?

    • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

      If you are unable to get the bills adjusted, reduced to an affordable balance, or set up with affordable payment options, you may be left with limited options.

      Medical bills can be settled for less than what is owed when they are in collections. And chapter 7 bankruptcy would wipe the debts clean.

      What can you afford to pay towards the bills each month?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I would still suggest you try to get itemized bills from the provider so you can audit them to see if they are accurate. You don’t say how long ago this happened, but I would still suggest you try to find out whether you were eligible for financial assistance. Your only other choice is to try to negotiate a settlement with the collection agency. I know this probably isn’t something you want to deal with, but it’s either fight it or pay – or get rid of the debt in bankruptcy. This article may come in handy: Big Hospital Bill? Negotiate!

    • Lauren

      Okay this happened January of 2013 so about a year ago.. and it is already in collections

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        It is up to you, but if I were in your shoes I would try to do as I described. It probably won’t be easy but it’s a good chunk of money you are talking about.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Talk with your insurance company immediately for advice. If the provider is a participating provider they must follow certain procedures and they can’t “balance bill” you amounts beyond your agreement.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I would suggest you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Please write them a brief letter complaining about the company and stating that they are charging you for a bill you already paid. (Make sure the complaint you file is clear and to the point.) You may want to also file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office.

    In addition, you should file a written dispute with the collection agency. You can state that you already paid this bill to the original provider. Send your letter to the collection agency certified mail, return receipt. Keep a copy for your records where you can find it later if it comes up again.

    And in the meantime, if you can remember which credit cards you may have used to pay it, contact them to see if they can help you retrieve a record of that payment. Even if it costs you a little money to get copies of those statements it would be helpful.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Tony – I would suggest you talk with a bankruptcy attorney. Paying a few dollars here and there is not going to resolve this and it is just doing to drag it out. You may end up sued – especially for those large amounts. So sorry to hear what you have been through.

  • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

    There is less to be concerned about when you know the debt collector is working directly with your creditor/lender/service provider.

    I would personally try to work directly with, and send payments to, the clinic/service provider, or their billing office. But that is not always possible.

    Are these collection balances appearing on your credit reports?

    • arincon

      I don’t know if they are working directly together or not. The bills were sent to separate collection agencies, and I haven’t checked my credit report lately, but assuming it’s showing up there. I’m not worried about paying off some of the smaller amounts, and think I can do it, but the largest one is going to take a long time. The insurance company claims that the average birth in my area costs only about $2200 (which sounds low), and of course mine had complications and I had to end up staying longer in the hospital, but was told it was still going to be covered (by my doctor.) Is there anything you can do when it seems like you have been basically lied to by everyone? It is just so frustrating when you’re told that everything is covered, and then it’s not. I guess you need to get everything in writing. I had a hard enough time trying to get the insurance company to pay for the emergency repairs following the birth, because they had to call in a special surgeon for the job who wasn’t in network….like I had a choice. The entire situation is so frustrating.

      • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

        You can run out of options dealing with the medical/insurance racket real quick. It does not sound like you would qualify for any bill reduction based on income. And I am not sure what benefit would come from complaints with your states insurance regulator. But filing complaints may lead to something (and would probably be cathartic too).

        It would be good to get a grip on these before they appear on your credit, if that has not happened yet. If it has, post an update.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    emailed a reply asking you some questions. Did you receive it?

  • Samantha

    In 2009 I was visiting Missouri and had to be taken to the hospital because I went into DKA, Diabetic Keto Acidosis, I was there for a few nights. A few weeks later I was headed home and went low blood sugar when we landed for a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, I was taken to the hospital and treated, then released the same day to catch my flight home. After getting on the plane to head to Arizona, I again went low blood sugar and the plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, I was again taken to a hospital and treated. All of these hospitals took my insurance card but still ended up sending me bills for all of these visits. I proceeded to contact my insurance, who said they should have been billed and I needed to send them all the bills I received in order for them to take care of it. At the time I was unable to comply and now 4 years later I am concerned with these items on my credit report. Since these medical bills should have been sent to my insurance in the first place, and the hospitals did not bother to contact the insurance and just sent the bills directly to me, is there a way to dispute these if I do not wish to wait 3 years for them to be removed from my credit report, since I am getting married next year and wanting to buy a house soon after?

  • Samantha Spejcher

    In 2009 I was visiting Missouri and had to be taken to the hospital because I went into DKA, Diabetic Keto Acidosis, I was there for a few nights. A few weeks later I was headed home and went low blood sugar when we landed for a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, I was taken to the hospital and treated, then released the same day to catch my flight home. After getting on the plane to head to Arizona, I again went low blood sugar and the plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, I was again taken to a hospital and treated. All of these hospitals took my insurance card but still ended up sending me bills for all of these visits. I proceeded to contact my insurance, who said they should have been billed and I needed to send them all the bills I received in order for them to take care of it. At the time I was unable to comply and now 4 years later I am concerned with these items on my credit report. Since these medical bills should have been sent to my insurance in the first place, and the hospitals did not bother to contact the insurance and just sent the bills directly to me, is there a way to dispute these if I do not wish to wait 3 years for them to be removed from my credit report, since I am getting married next year and wanting to buy a house soon after?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Samantha – Whether or not the medical providers were required to bill your insurance before trying to collect from you probably depends on whether or not they were “in network” participating providers. If they were, then they may have been required to bill and not hold you responsible if they didn’t. But that’s really an insurance company question. You’ll need to contact them for advice.

      As for getting them off your credit reports, you may open a can of worms if you start disputing them. If I were you I would be more concerned about whether they are outside the statute of limitations and, if not, whether you can be sued.

      • Samantha Spejcher

        At the time I contacted the insurance and they said I was covered for all hospital visits because they were emergency visits and my insurance covered those regardless of doctor or hospital or state. But as I said the hospitals sent the bills to me rather then the insurance, they never contacted the insurance even though I gave them all the insurance information.

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          They may have violated the terms of their contract with the insurer then which means they may not be able to bill you directly. Ask your insurance company about that.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I have no easy answer for you there. My suggestion is you talk with a consumer law attorney to find out what your options are. Quite honestly, after talking with the attorney you may find it’s cheaper to settle the debt than to hire them to try to clear it for you. But that’s a discussion you’ll need to have with them. Visit naca.net for a referral.

  • tania

    Long story short, about 3 years ago I went to the ER for possible miscarriage. A friend took me and I put their address down for the hospital to send the bill for personal reasons I did not want anything sent to my home. There were many things going on in my life at that time and I completely forgotten about the bill. It wasn’t until a recent visit to the ER this year that I was asked If the address on file was correct. I then remembered how they even got this address from the miscarriage visit. I began to receive calls from debt collectors,but have avoided speaking to them. I have checked my credit score and have nothing ? I am in fear that due to the time its been that I will be owing a lot of money and that my credit will be a nightmare. I want to resolve this and pay that bill but don’t know where to begin . Please respond, I need help.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Tania – I am sorry to hear what you went through and unfortunately I don’t have a simple answer for you, nor can I promise won’t affect your credit. In fact, make sure you check all three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion as some collectors report to one or two bureaus but not all three.

      You may want to first check out the statute of limitations for your state to see whether this debt is too old (probably not, but it’s a good idea to know). Then if you want to take care of it, I would suggest you talk with the ER, explain what happened and ask them for the status of that bill and whether you can make payments to them.

      If not you may have to try to work something out with the collection agency. We’ve written a lot of stories on this that you’ll find linked from the above article.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The only thing I can think of is for your sister to reach out to the medical provider and ask for copies of the bills. If your cousin signed for the procedures she agreed to be 100% responsible. I really don’t see how she can sue your sister in that situation. I am not an attorney, though, so please don’t take that as legal advice.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately as uncomfortable as it may have been to confront the dentist it should have been done well before it went to collections. Now you are facing the the same problem you had then – except that your credit has been damaged. And yes, a collection account can cause considerable damage to your credit scores, not to mention the fact that you could be battling this account for several years and it can stay on your reports for 7.5 years.

    The collection agency is not going to want to get in the middle of this dispute which is essentially over the quality of the service you were provided, so you are going to have no choice but to go back to the dentist and ask them to pull the account back from collections (so that it is removed from your credit reports) and erase the “balance.” I can’t advise you on your legal rights with regard to whether this debt is legitimate. I am not an attorney and that would depend on the facts and circumstances as well as laws in your state.

    Read: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

    I would suggest you start off polite but firm; they got paid well for the services they did perform and you did not continue the treatment. Mentioning that this has damaged your credit may help too (see below).

    In the meantime, you can send a written dispute to the collection agency stating that you don’t believe you owe this debt and asking them to verify it. Keep your letter clear and straight to the point and send it with proof of delivery. I am not suggesting that this dispute will make it “go away.” It won’t. But it may buy you some time while you try to straighten it out with the dentist.

    Also in the meantime, please check all three of your credit reports with AnnualCreditReport.com and check your credit score with Credit.com to see how this may be affecting your credit.

    Of course, the other alternative is to consult with a consumer law attorney. Considering the damage this can do to your credit, it may be worthwhile, but that will ultimately be your decision.

    • countD

      Oops – reply meant for ConfuZzzzed, not Gerri Detweiler

      If the dentist billed your insurance co. for services he did not provide – a palate spacer that was never activated – that could well be seen as fraud. I would report this matter to the Insurance Commissioner in your state- as well as your insurance company. The practice could be fined, punitive fines that run into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/enforcement/cmp/false_claims.asp
      Also, you might consider contacting the Dental Board in your state regarding the dentist offering orthodontia treatment without qualifications – as well as placing a device on your child before you had signed the waiver. It could be more than a general consent for treatment was required, as this was a more invasive procedure.

      If they get in hot water over their billing & health care practices, you might have more leverage against the excessive billing. The Insurance commissioner or Attorney Generals office might be able to offer you assistance if they believe the billing was not legitimate. You will need to be proactive & file a complaint, but if they are in your corner they are very effective and you won’t need to rack up an attorney’s bill.

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        Good advice! Thanks for weighing in.

  • Ashleigh

    A few years ago I went to an urgent care to see a doctor. We got a bill for around $300 when I was covered under two insurance policies. We called the office and they said they would get it fixed. Then we got another bill as a final notice and we called again and again and each time we were told it would be taken care of. We stopped getting bills for it so we thought it had been. I ended up getting a job with that medical company and quickly found out that was not the case and it has been damaging my credit the whole time. I called the billing department a few times when I worked there and they told me my insurance policies were both claiming primary. So we called each of them and they both denied it and said they were getting filed properly. The ladies from the billing dept Of the urgent care told me they would call the collections agency and tell them to hold off temporarily until they figure it out. That was about a year ago and It is still affecting my credit. What else can I do to solve this? I feel helpless.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      You are stuck in a very difficult situation.

      First you need to get your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCredit.com. You need proof that these accounts are on there.

      I assume you still work for this practice? If so then try to make an appointment in person with the supervisor of that department. Is that possible? Take a copy of your credit reports and show them to her and tell her that you need them removed from your credit reports. I’d normally say threaten a credit damage lawsuit but if you work for that practice it may not be wise.

      The only way these are going to come off your credit is if the provider who placed it for collections will pull it back from collections. I wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

    • randy

      Let me explain it’s unlawful for a hospital to put medical bills on your credit you signed a privacy statement everyone does so they are not suppose to report but problem is no-one knows this law if you don’t believe me call Lexington law and a attorney or even a local attorney will tell you that it’s unlawful for them to put.that on your credit

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler


        It’s legal for collection accounts to be reported on credit reports. However, you are correct in the sense that they can’t reveal any confidential medical information. For example, it would be fine for XYZ Collection Agency to report the collection account but it wouldn’t be legal for the debt to be reported under XYZ Cancer Treatment Center because it would reveal they type of medical care that was received.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It is hard to tell without more details. It certainly would not hurt for you to talk with a consumer law attorney to find out whether you have a case for credit damage. You can visit NACA.net for a referral. The first consultation is usually free. Will you let us know what they say? (You’ll still need copies of your credit reports to prove what’s going on.)

    • Ashleigh

      I certainly will keep you all updated! I appreciate the advice.

  • Sandra

    I need some help! My child was born in 2010. I am covered by 2 major insurance companies. Everything was taken care of. 3 years later after the birth of our second child I received a $4000 bill from the anesthesiologist…from the 2010 birth! They billed my secondary insurance instead of my primary, and let it go for 3 years. When my daughter was born in 2013 it must have kicked up the 2010 bill. I called my primary but they said the statute of limitations was up and they wont pay it. Now the anesthesiologist is coming after me. The office received some money from my secondary, but want the remaining from me. I feel this is not my responsibility, Had they had contacted me in a timely manner I could have fixed it. Sending the first bill 3 years later is unacceptable. I don’t know what to do or what my rights are, I dont want a collection agency after me, I have great credit. Please, any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Yes this is a very difficult but not totally unheard of situation. If the anesthesiologist was a participating provider in your primary insurance then they may be prohibited from trying to bill you now for a service they failed to bill for in a timely matter. (That would be a matter of the providers contract with the insurance company.) Ask your insurance company if this would be considered balance billing and what you can do about it. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, I am at a loss: I haven’t found a good resource for these kinds of problems. You can try your state insurance commissioner and they may or may not be helpful.

      I know this whole world of medical insurance is a confusing hassle but in the future it’s really important to review your Explanations of Benefits from your insurance company. If you don’t seen an EOB for services you received, you’ll want to investigate. I’m certainly not blaming you, but unfortunately, there’s no specific set of billing rights for patients so we are stuck trying to protect ourselves.

  • Megan

    Hello, I just did my first credit check. It came back pretty bad. I have unpaid medical bills that I did not know about. I was 14 at the time that the debt was out onto my credit score. I was just curious, is this legal?

  • marci

    I just had my credit checked and have two unpaid medical bills listed from 4 years ago. The name of the medical facility is not listed. I have no record or memory of where these are from. Who can I contact that can give me information on these?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Because of medical privacy laws, those are not listed (say, if you received treatment at a cancer center or migraine specialty clinic for example, listing the creditor could disclose your condition). You could try writing the credit bureaus, and providing enough personal information so that they can be sure you are the person requesting the information (you could try recent addresses, last four digits of Social Security, etc.).

  • Carol

    Hi, I recently put a bid on home. Everything was fine, the there was paperwork that missed a deadline. My credit report came back this time with 3 medical bills in collections. I did not receive these in the mail. Now I may lose my offer on this home. Closing date has come and gone. Can I get this fixed

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    How is the coverage provided? By an employer, purchased on insurance marketplace (exchange), or purchased directly from insurer? What state are you in?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am not aware of any federal law that they be removed under these circumstances but I also don’t know anything about Federal Insurance for Native Americans. Sometimes if you dispute paid collection account they are not confirmed and are simply removed. You may want to try that and if it doesn’t work, consider filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t believe there are any regulations that prevent an individual doctor from refusing to see you because you owe a balance.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Was the hospital a participating provider in your insurance plan’s network? If so contact your insurance company – the hospital may not be able to “balance bill” you.

    Another mistake – and I know you didn’t know this – was to not insist that the provider bill your medical insurance right away. They don’t like to do that because they can make more if they get paid through a claim but it can protect you from getting stuck with the bills if the claim is denied. We wrote about that here: Don’t Let a Car Accident Wreck Your Credit

    You may need to get an attorney involved at this point.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    California is a community property state so it is very possible that you are also responsible for these debt incurred before your marriage ended. If the collection agency is asking for the divorce papers it is possible they won’t pursue it. But avoiding it is not a good strategy. It could result in you being sued. I would suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney to find out for sure. Many offer free or low-cost consultations.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Ask them immediately for a copy of their financial aid policy and how to apply for financial assistance. If they are a non-profit hospital they are required to provide that under the Affordable Care Act. Even if they aren’t, they should provide it to you so you can apply. You may be able to get his significantly reduced. And make sure you get some kind of health insurance going forward. Even if there is a high deductible, the insurance company negotiates lower rates with participating providers, and it’s simply too risky to be without it.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am so sorry to hear what you’re going through. Why don’t you talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney? Even if you don’t end up filing, the attorney should be able to tell you what they can and cannot do to collect.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t have a step-by-step guide for her unfortunately. I am not even sure I fully understand the scenario you are describing. But if she was supposed to be covered by insurance then my suggestion is that she contact that insurance agency to find out what they recommend she do. After three years it may be too late to bill, but it’s worth a try. (Are you saying she submitted the wrong insurance to them and so they didn’t bill it?) This is a large amount of money so she may want to get advice from a consumer law attorney to see what her options are.

  • Donwilo

    Hi everyone, I am not an American citizen, but went to the US just to have my baby. I started paying the bills, but because at that time I was using my cousin’s credit card, who stays in the US, anytime I called the hospital they will give me different statement about my bill. Because of that I stopped, then I traveled out of the US. I heard now that the Debts collectors are now call his phone concerning my debts. So can someone please advice me on how to go about this, because I am willing to pay, but only that I stop paying because of the inconsistency on the remaining bills.
    Because I planned to come to the US mid this year, in which I will pay directly to the hospital or the Debt collector.

    Or should I called the Debts collectors when where I am now to negotiate the bills….

    Please advice what’s the best option. And also what does this mean to my reputation in the US, because the bills are in my name….will this affect me in any way…..Please expert I want your assistant.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I don’t have a simple answer for you. First, with regard to your “reputation,” these bills may or may not have started a credit report for you, depending on the information you provided when you were admitted. Assuming you don’t have a Social Security number yet it’s possible the collectors have not reported it to the credit reporting agencies. On the other hand the SSN is not required so it’s possible a credit report has started, perhaps with your cousin’s address on it. It’s hard to tell. You can always try requesting yours from AnnualCreditReport.com when you get settled back in the country.

      It would probably be a good idea to try to negotiate now with the collection agencies. Knowing you are not in the US puts you at an advantage, because they probably know there is not a lot they can do legally to collect from you. Get any agreements in writing, and be sure to keep copies and proof of payment indefinitely.

      As for your cousin, did he sign any forms agreeing to take financial responsibility if you didn’t pay? If not, then he can tell the collectors it’s not his bill and insist they stop contacting him. If they call or write him after that he can talk with a consumer law attorney or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • JReezy

    Hi, I realize this is an old article, but I see some other recent comments so I thought I’d ask my question. I did quite a bit to damage my credit throughout college, but I’ve managed to pay off all of the debts that went to collections and I have been regularly paying off my credit card and am slowly rebuilding my credit. In my ignorance, I didn’t actually ever check my credit score until very recently and saw that there is an open collections bill for about 600 for a medical bill that I had (mistakenly) believed I had finished paying off years ago. The last payment I made was ~3 years ago, and having moved around a lot in the last several years, I stopped receiving bills and overlooked the fact that I never made the final payment for this (originally ~$2000) medical debt.

    This remains the only derogatory mark in my reports, and I’ve seen conflicting opinions about whether it is smart to pay these types of debts off or ride them out. I’m interested in rebuilding my credit to a level where I could get a mortgage within the next year. I can afford to pay off this collection in full, but I’m wondering if I should try to “pay to delete” like I have seen others suggest elsewhere. The other small collections accounts are still on my credit report (although closed/paid off), and I realize I probably can’t remove these except through time, but I’m wondering if it would be an effective strategy to try to negotiate this $600 one down to a lower amount (save myself a little money) and/or ask for deletion of the account as a condition of paying off the amount owed.
    Am I right in thinking that it won’t hurt to try this? If they refuse, and I pay the bill in full, does the 7 year timeline start over at the time of payment, or will it simply remain on my report with its status changed to closed/paid and disappear in ~4 years, which will be 7 years from the date it was first sent to collections? Do collection agencies typically respond well to pay-to-delete requests, even though they aren’t really required to do so?

    Thanks, sorry for such a long post.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      You may discover that you have to resolve this collection account in order to get a mortgage, so it’s not a bad idea to think about taking care of it now rather than waiting until you’re ready to get a loan. The only potential problem I can anticipate is if the collection agency says you owe more than what’s on your credit report due to interest and penalties. I push hard to try not to have to pay more than that.

      It certainly can’t hurt you to request a pay for deletion deal. They aren’t common, but they do happen. When you approach them initially, I’d suggest you approach it in an open-ended way, asking them to verify the debt because you’re not sure you owe that balance.

      Paying it now doesn’t change how long it can be reported on your credit reports. But it will extend the statute of limitations. I don’t know what that is in your state so you want to double check.

  • Paul

    My dentist told us that a visit was covered by insurance and we would only have to pay the co-pay. However a few weeks later we received a bill for almost $600.00. We refused to pay and they sent it to a collection agency. Now that has taken a huge toll on my credit score! If we sue them and win, will that completely come off my credit report? How does that work? Will it be like it never happened?

    • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

      It is possible to have the outcome of your lawsuit include the removal of any derogatory credit reporting.

      Are you working with an attorney?

  • Bill

    What can be done if a bill is accidently sent to collections? In PA my wife gave birth to our second child in the same hospital as our first back in October. We currently have an outstanding balance with the hospital which is on a payment plan. My wife noticed her name was slightly different on the billing records and told the staff who said they would fix it. Later we received a letter from the hospital asking us to pay $1600. She contacted the hospital and told them we currently have an account with them and they stated because the name was different, Middle initial, the new bill wasn’t merged with the outstanding balance. They said they would take care of it. A month later a collections company sent a letter stating that we owe $1600. It seems the staff never corrected her name and put it with our other outstanding bills which is on a payment plan. She contacted the hospital 5 times in a 4 week period and each time they said they would look into it and call her back which they never did. Now the bill is officially in collections and they will hit her credit every month it’s not paid in full. The hospital said there is nothing they can do to get it back and we have to pay it. Is there any recourse since it was a mistake by the hospital because they didn’t join the bills together?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Please check again with the hospital (keeping careful records of when you called, who you spoke with and what was agreed to). In many cases, a hospital can indeed pull a bill back from collections, particularly when there has been a mistake.

  • Chelsea Nichole

    I saw a dr 9yrs ago with coverage. The remainder of the bill for mri, etc was $330 and was sent to collections. In August of last year it was removed from my credit. Now my family dr has referred me to that dr for treatment. They want me to pay that $330. Do i still have to if it has been removed feom my credit?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      My understanding is that doctors may refuse to see patients who have not paid previous bills. If you can’t afford to resolve those bills is there another physician who can provide those services for you?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t have a simple solution for you; however, if this happened six years ago than it should be off your credit report next year. Collection accounts may only be reported for seven years +180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor (the date of the ER visit would be a good benchmark here).

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Anya – Were these services rendered at a hospital? Have you reached out to them for information about their charity care program and to apply?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Have you spoken with the collection agency and asked them to stop calling since you are making payments? What did they say? If they refuse to stop you may want to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Sarah

    I have been working really hard to clean up my credit report so that we can purchase a house. I’ve increased my credit scores about 100 pts over the last year but I still have quite a few medical collections on my account. Most of them are from Central Financial Control. My question is are the Collection Agencies allowed to list the provider on your credit report? Every single one of them have ABC Hospital or ABC OBGYN listed.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      No, that sounds like it would be a violation of medical privacy laws. (Though keep in mind we are not lawyers and cannot give you legal advice.)

  • dc

    I have two medical bills in collections one for 3,070 original balance 1,866 date opened December15 2010 they are pressuring for a payment the second bill is for $7,929 date opened August 12 2014 day of service was in 2008 how can I negotiate I really want to buy a home and I’m barely making my living expenses what can I do??

  • Ryan Egan

    I need some advice. My wife had a baby and we needed to order s breast pump. I was about to experience a lapse in insurance for a month due to a job transition.

    I was very intentional about putting in the order for the pump shortly after she had the baby while my insurance was still active.

    I put the order in with my insurance and they sent me the breast pump.

    I thought all was fine until I received a $300 bill in the mail. Call into the company to find out that they don’t bill the insurance company until the package is confirmed as delivered which occurred after my insurance expired.

    I offered to send it back, but they said they won’t take it because the package is opened.

    I’m frustrated because they should disclose in some kind of way that they bill insurance on delivery and not on order (like everything else in the world).

    I haven’t paid them out of principle. I had insurance and would not have put in a request for a breast pump had I not had insurance.

    I’m debating on what to do here. Is this grounds for a dispute? I never agreed to pay anything for the product.


    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      If they were a participating provider than it is possible their contract with the insurer may restrict what they can charge you. But I am confused – have you asked your insurance to reimburse you for it? If your insurance was still active when you got it, you should still be able to request reimbursement from your insurance company even if you no longer are covered through them….?

  • brianna

    when I was 8 years old I had a brain tumor im 21 now.I have a shunt in my head so I have mris, dr follow ups, and surgeries that rack up my medical bills I was wondering if theres any type of program or anything that can help someone like me out with my debt? thanks.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Brianna —
      So sorry to hear about your health challenges (and the financial ones that have resulted). Have you spoken with hospital social worker about possible programs that would help? He or she is probably the best source of information. It’s also important to check bills for accuracy, in some case wrong codes or other mistakes can inflate a bill.

      • Eduardo Martinez

        Well I got a lot of hospital bills in collection with nationwide recovery services is it possible to apply for financia

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          It’s better to apply for financial help when you receive the services but it may still be possible. Have you contacted the hospital to find out what the procedure is?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Patrick – I am trying to research this for another readers. Stay tuned.

  • djkoz78

    Had cancer when I was 18 spent an entire year in the hospital then had a major surgery called a lymphnode dissection to check to see if the cancer had spread it did not thank god, was out of the hospital in a weeks time was home for a weekend and then was re-admitted the following Monday because I was throwing up and couldn’t keep anything down, was in severe pain for a month went from 145lbs to 80lbs saw my gastrointestinal doctor 3 times the entire month I was suffering and vomiting everytime I ate. Then he wasn’t even in the hospital when they told me it was from addiction to pain killers and tried to dismiss me out of the hospital. Thank god there was another gastrointestinal doctor who was trying to dismiss me bc I had absolute terror on my face. He told me that if something was truly wrong with me then refuse to leave which is what I did. Finally that Gastro doctor came up with a diagnosis. After my lymphnode dissection scar tissue had attached itself to my intestines and cut off my digestive tract and told me that I had a full bowel obstruction. A month after having a major surgery I was back in the surgery room undergoing another major surgery. Had a seizure. Nearly died. My insurance didn’t cover almost half of the bills. My stay was over a million dollars. I have no way to pay this off so I cant get a good credit score.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Have you spoken with a bankruptcy attorney about your options? Starting over completely may be your best bet. You will have to rebuild your credit, but you also would if you continued to try to pay this enormous debt unless your income is far, far higher than the typical American’s.

  • brandon

    Hello to all.
    I just applied for a car loan today and was declined because of my past medical bills. It’s 5/14/15 today and in 2010 I was involved in a car wreck, my wife at the time was driving and it was her fault. I was living in GA at that time and no layer would take my case because in the state of GA you can’t sue your spouse. Anyways, I ended up spending a week in Atlanta medical center with a bill of 130,000.00 dollars to be owed by myself. I have blown it off but now I have a credit score of 530 and can not get a loan anywhere. I’m 33 years old and I’m finally getting things together. I have a great job and have save some money. This astronomical debt that I owe is keeping me from moving forward in life and I need some advice on what I can do or should do. Please help if you can advice me…

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Brandon, That is a lot of debt and if it remains unpaid could lead to lawsuits and judgments. Have you looked into negotiating the debt or filing for bankruptcy? You may want to talk with a medical bill negotiation expert to see what they think they can do and also meet with a consumer bankruptcy attorney to discuss that option. With more information you can hopefully make a more informed decision.

  • Justa Guy

    I had to go to the hospital for a procedure in February. I found out my insurance deductible was $3000!!! So, between paying the doctor $300 and the hospital $2700 (had to get a loan) I then found out from my insurance statement that my responsibility was $2400. So I called the hospital and they said I had an outstanding debt that they applied it to from 2005!!! That was 10 years ago! I don’t even remember going there! Is that legal?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It’s questionable, as that old debt is likely outside the statute of limitations. I’d suggest you at least get a free consultation with a consumer law attorney experienced in debt collection cases. (Visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates if you need help finding one.) And if that doesn’t work at least file a complaint with the CFPB.

      • Justa Guy

        Thank you SO much for your answer. I truly appreciate it. I won’t worry about the extra $ I paid because it would be FAR more to hire an attorney to fight it. I’m pretty sure it’s FAR beyond the Statute of Limitations and there are NO collections on my CR!

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          You’re welcome. Keep in mind you should be able to get a free consultation with a consumer law attorney and if it turns out the company is breaking the law they may be able to help you at little or no out of pocket cost to you. Another option is to see if you are eligible for help from Legal Aid.

  • Sandy

    My daughter has been sick off and on for 10 years. She has been hospitalized many times for brain surgeries and back surgeries. She has been able to work some in between but not much. Although we have paid all we can, all savings gone, she still owes over $42,000. Everyone wants payment but there is no income to pay with. You can’t negotiate a payment plan when you have no income. The state that she lives in does not have Medicaid for single individuals. Anyone know what kind of attorney you contact to deal with medical bills? Or any other suggestions on what to do about this? Remember she has no income right now due to a new illness suspected.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Yes, she really needs to talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. Perhaps negotiation will be an option but given the size of those bills, talking with a bankruptcy attorney makes sense.

  • Shut up and read

    I have a serious problem. I went to the er, then about a month later the bills stayed to arrive. For the first 90 days I have requested an itemized bill… I have never received one, and was told that one bill could not be itemized. This has been now 10 months and I received a collection notice. What are my rights? Isn’t there statute of limitations for sending out the correct billing info, like once the patient request an itemized bill, they only have like 90 days before the bill is null and void. I have requested the itemized bill like 30 or 40 times and still not gotten it.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Was this a nonprofit or for profit hospital? What state?

      • Shut up and read

        I think profit. I’m in Texas. I know there is a 4 year statute of limitations for them to come after you. But they won’t send me an itemization. This is harassment, when they send out the bills, continually calling my house, collection calls. I am not paying for something that I didn’t have done.

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          I’d suggest you reach out to the
          Texas Consumer Complaint Center. They can help you understand your rights and options.

  • Ali

    I had my baby in an in network hospital and through pre admission was guaranteed that no matter what happened, I was only responsible for my copay of $150. Over a year later I received a bill from every doctor who saw me during labor and recovery, totaling over $3000 (it was one combined bill from all of them). I found out they were all just contracted with the hospital so were not considered in network. My insurance realized that it was emergency and that I had no choice, so they paid what they would have paid if it were in network. That only covered 1/3 of the bill, so I am left with over $2000 that I owe the doctors’ group. During pre admission this was never mentioned and the bill came so much later that I am absolutely shocked. Since they waiting over a year to bill my insurance company and me, can anything be done? You know, the timely claim filing and all? I had BCBC federal in Oklahoma with no deductible, copays only. I have exhausted google and can’t find much for my situation. I am pregnant again and am worried for this out of network situation to happen again. I chose an in network hospital who did not have any in network doctors on duty. I feel like I’m being taken advantage of.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Ali – I ran your situation by our contributor Mark Rukavina. He has several questions for you: She mentioned BCBC federal, is she covered under the federal employees health benefits program? Did she get the per-admission guarantee in writing? Is the hospital for-profit or non-profit? Did she write the OK insurance commissioner (see link https://www.ok.gov/oid/Consumers/Consumer_Assistance/File_a_Complaint.html )?

  • John Kineman

    If there is a new act for debt collection rules, whoever has input should say we need a provision to allow customers to set up automatic payments and/or get email or text notification of bills sent. Bill can come out of a black hole in the current system and as hard as you try to anticipate them, some may arrive from an unknown biller representing the doctor, the facility, the janitor, or anyone involved in treatment. you can’t get a list of what bills will come in advance. AND most if not all billers only bill by physical mail with no other provision. Our problem is we travel a lot, so paper bills can be missed for a long time. The only thing we have not tried is having them mark our address as no longer valid, forcing some other means of contact. But even that is a problem with most places because they do not have a provision for entering an international phone number. This is only about having some reasonable alternatives for being contacted to know there is a bill to deal with.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The collection attorney can sue if you don’t pay, but that doesn’t mean they will be able to collect. Since you live in Texas, I would encourage you to reach out to the Texas Consumer Complaint Center for more information.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Patrick – We have published an article on this topic. I hope you find it helpful: Is a Debt Collector Allowed to Know My Medical History?

  • manuel santana

    I have therapy bills from an accident I had in November. I was going to therapy then my girlfriends mother and me had an argument so I had to leave (long story). I just got one of the letters . this lady is withholding my mail and they are saying that I owe 3000$ I couldn’t even send the papers in with my insurance . idk what to do I live in NYC there has to be some legal action against this. This is going to mess up my credit I’m 21 with clean credit I haven’t even used it yet. Now this. Please help

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I know medical bills can be confusing even in the best of circumstances. I am not sure whether you have insurance that you expect would cover these or not, but the fact that your girlfriend’s mother is holding your mail doesn’t prevent the providers from sending an unpaid debt to collections.

      I would recommend you contact your medical providers immediately. Explain that you have not been receiving your mail and ask them what you need to do to get this processed through your insurance. If they have already turned these bills over to collections, ask them if they can pull them back from collections. You can also try contacting your insurance provider to see if they have received bills for these services. Keep good notes and stay on top of this or you risk damage to your credit.

      And contact the post office to change your mail and report the withheld mail. As far as I know it’s not legal for someone to intercept your mail. The NY Legal Assistance Group may be able to help if you need assistance.

      Please read: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • Christy Mascarenas

    I received a bill for 2 perscriptions for $168 that were filled 8 months ago by my previous carrier! I thought I was covered so I filled these at the end of January but I guess my coverage ended Dec 31. I had asked my husband to pick them up and according to the carrier they said I didn’t have coverage but my husband said yes we do and they went ahead and filled it based on their “Believe me Policy” and said they would bill us later. If I knew I was not covered I would have just gone to King Soopers where I can get both covered for under $20 with no insurance. Is there any way for me to dispute this since it took them 8 months to give me a first notice? It has been so long I don’t even remember exactly what was going on at the time. It’s like they waited this long so I wouldn’t have a clear memory. Is a medical facility required to bill a patient within a certain time frame of receiving treatment or a perscription? Thanks for any suggestions.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Christy —
      As far as we know, Texas is the only state that has requirements that medical bills be sent within a particular amount of time. We wrote about it here: http://blog.credit.com/2015/07/the-little-known-texas-law-that-can-save-you-from-medical-debt-119851/
      With hindsight, you no doubt realize that when the carrier said there was no coverage, it would have been wise to double-check. Unless you are in Texas, you may be stuck with a lesson learned at a high price.

  • Pam Monson

    My 22 yr old daughter was living in Las Vegas and she got very sick and had to go to the hospital. She had a uterine infection. She was not working at the time and had no insurance. She was so sick she just signed whatever they handed her. Ended up giving her a CAT scan among many other test. Final bills were over $8,000.00. She has no way to pay this and now it has gone to collections. Should she attempt to make some kind of payment arrangement or just let it go? What can they do to her if she doesn’t pay? and how long will it affect her credit?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      What kind of assets does she have? If she has no assets, bankruptcy and a fresh start may be her best bet. A consultation with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss her options may be her best move right now.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Have you talked with a bankruptcy attorney? They may recommend that you stop paying non-essential debts in order to save up the money to file. We can’t give legal advice but often continuing to make payments on a debt you’ll never be able to repay jut extends the statute of limitations.

  • Brenda

    I’m having an issue the company the doctor is contracted with. My son had an ER visit and the hospital and doctor were billed separately. I paid the hospital bill and received the bill for the doctor later. The problem was they didnt have my insurance on file, so i called gave them that information in Jan. In March they sent another statement saying I owe the full amount. I called my insurance company and they never recieved anything. So I call and the company and let them know to send it to my insurance because they never received it. They sent in into the insurance company and then sent another bill for the full amount. When i called again the company claimed that i recieved a check from my insurance, which I did not. So I call my insurance to check into it, but insurance said they never even sent one. They showed they needed more information to process the claim and were waiting for a reply. Told me just to have them send it over again. Well they did, this time it was processed and insurance said I owe way less than was billed since they were in network. I was fine with paying that amount but then I recieved another bill in the mail stating I owe the full amount. They are claiming insurance processed it incorrectly and I should pay more because they are out-of-network provider. The problem I’m having is they are in-network my insurance company has said thats what I owe and the company thinks they are re-processing. They are still claiming they are out of network. They refuse to believe they are in network even though you can look them up on my insurance’s website and it says they are in network. My insurance said the provider can request a copy of the contract but I honestly don’t even trust this company to follow through with this. I feel like they are wanting me to pay out of pocket. It’s bad when i trust an insurance company over a provider… I have no idea what to do next. Can you give any advice? I don’t want this sent to collections and ruin my credit.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Gerri Detweiler, Consumer.com’s director of consumer education, was also recently in a situation in which she grew concerned that her credit might suffer if she didn’t pay a bill that she believed insurance owed and would eventually pay. She describes what she did (and the pros and cons of it) here: Should You Ever Pay Your Bills With a Credit Card?

  • Jefferson

    Last year my friend went into the ER and got a bill of about $2500. She managed to pay of about half and I have $1290 remaining. She is an international student in the US who just turned 18 two months ago. She went on holiday for about 3 months and she completely forgot about the bill. She did not pay the bill every month even though she was on a payment plan but she thought it was fine as long as she pays the bill once every 2 months. Then the bill went into collections during the holiday and she had just arrived back in the US and received a letter saying that the bill went to collections. The reason why she has not been paying the bill every month is because she didn’t want to tell her parents about it and had to save money they gave her. She told her dad and he will send her some money to pay for it soon. She only has only 4 days left until it’s been a month since the collection letter was sent. Does it matter if she pays the money in full a few days after the date of when the notice was sent a month before? Will this affect her credit score? However, she does not own a credit card therefore she needs to know, does she have a credit score event though she does not own any credit cards? She also does not have a social security number. She is also planning to apply for a credit card just to enrol for a program to buy an iPhone. Will this debt hurt her chances of getting an approval? We’re very confused. Thank you

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It is very unlikely that she has a credit score or a credit report since she doesn’t have a Social Security number or any credit accounts in the US. And therefore it is also unlikely she will be able to get a credit card (without a Social Security number). Read: How to Build Credit When You’re New to the U.S.A.

      Very likely that bill could have been negotiated down to a much lower amount as well under the circumstances. They probably charged her the highest uninsured rate which has no basis in reality.

  • Gary

    We just received bill for over $5k from 3 yrs ago. My wife had Cobra at the time she was admitted and they said everything had been taken care of back in 2012. The bill we got yesterday says first is “selfpay” and second is Aetna. We had a house fire 1.5 years ago and do not have any of the records available from Cobra or the hospital stay. Where do we start now to fight this?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Ugh! Who sent the bill? If it’s a collection agency then you can certainly dispute in writing (with proof of delivery). Did you have insurance at the time? I’d contact them next to see what kind of records they may have about EOB’s, bills etc. You can also contact the original providers to see what information they have.

  • Kristen Phillips

    Were unsure what to do. , we received a medical bill , that eventually went into collections , my husband got a phone call from the collection agency, paid 100.00 , we recently received an adjusted bill from the actual hospital knocking the original price down by a lot , the Hospital billing department lady did not see any open collection accounts for this amount , so now with no phone number or letter to the actual collection agency , we are unsure what to do .

  • Jenny Gueroult

    I am French and while I was visiting a friend this summer i had to get medical care…

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Jenny – I did not publish your full comment for privacy reasons. I have emailed you instead.

  • Dawn

    I just received a bill from Minnesota care today Oct.5th 20015 for $580.00. They are saying I owe this money back from January 2008 to July 2008. I have no clue how to straighten that out as I carried insurance with my employer in 2008. I had Minnesota care in 2007…Very confused

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Normally what I would advise is this: It sounds like an eight year old debt and our understanding is that there is generally a six year statute of limitations on contract claims in MIN. (Note we are not attorneys so please do not rely on that for legal advice.) You may want to contact your state attorney general’s office to confirm that is the case for medical debt as well.

      If the debt is too old you can send them a certified letter stating that you have researched it and that you know it is a time-barred debt.

      However, it appears that Minnesota Care is a state program and that concerns me because sometimes government agencies have greater collection powers than private organizations. You may want to try talking with them – it could simply be a mix up. If you can’t get anywhere you may want to see if your state elected official may help. They often have an ombudsman service for constituents.

  • Angela

    I was seeing two separate doctors within one large medical group. The first doctor wasn’t billing my insurance correctly, and so claims were being denied. I was making pre-payments to the second doctor for an upcoming service. The first doctor took money out of the pre-payment account to cover the denied claims (and had access to it since it was one group) without ever sending me a bill or notifying me. So after the service, the second doctor was short money. It took 6 months for me to get a bill from the second doctor. I disputed the charges, and never heard back, so I thought it was settled. But, now it’s been sent to collections. First of all, was is even legal for the first doctor to take money without approval? And what recourse do I have so the collections will be taken off my credit?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Angela – This sounds like a really unfortunately and complicated situation. I can’t point to any specific medical billing laws that apply. However, if these doctors were in your insurance company’s provider network, then it’s likely that the insurance company has rules that cover “balanced billing” — or charging you for services that would have been covered if you were in their network.

      I would encourage you to document everything in writing from here on out, and keep really good records. Talk with your insurance company and ask them about the balance billing issue.

      Your ultimate goal should be to get the medical practice to pull it back from collections. We wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • Janae Makes

    My husband to a huge pay cut just over a year ago. Right after I had to have kidney surgary, then our disabled son had some medical problems AND then our youngest boy need his tonsils removed. We ended up in debt after the worst health 9 months EVER! So I stared request statements and paying what we could. Applying for assistance was a joke because the kept going off our PAST income. So I just started making small payments every pay period to we can cut down what we owe. Only one place has period the itemized statement. AND two places REFUSE to cash checks that my bank is issuing from the bill pay serve. Then send the unsigned checks BACK to me. Is that legal to down right refuse payment on a bill??

  • angie

    My son got braces about 5 years ago and I was making payments at the dentist office and all of the sudden they told me I owed the whole amount in full. I could not pay it, so we never went back. I recently received a court order stating for the sheriff’s department to seize my car and sell it. Well the sheriff told me that he was not taking my car. Now, about 3 weeks later, I get another court order stating that if I do not pay the amount owed in full, I will be arrested. I was not aware that you could be arrested for owing a doctor bill.

  • Sabrina

    I received a bill from the ambulance company back in February, 2015. I am underneath my mom’s insurance and she works for the county so everything and I mean EVERYTHING is covered. I called the member services and was informed to fax it to a specific dept. I did that and about an hour later I get a phone call from a co-worker telling me that my insurance had called him and said that my ambulance bill had nothing to do with them and that thy were going to destroy my bill. They couldn’t find my contact information so they googled the company I worked for and found someone with the same last name as me. Not first and last name, just last name. And it was a guy. Right there, my HIPPA law right had been violated…. I sent the fax again with a picture of my ID card and a note on what just happened. I hadn’t received another bill so I had assumed it was taken care of. June rolls around and I get a threat of collection. Now, my mom moved up to HR. She sent it to someone internally to have it taken care of before it hit my credit report.Thought it was taken care of, but it hit my credit report in September. So from September 9th to now I have been working up the chain of command because each person doesn’t know how to do their job and get the correct claim form from either the ambulance company or the collector. I’ve even been in contact with the collector myself and it seems as if they don’t want to get paid that bad. SO when I mean I am fully covered, I mean I had a $250k medical bill after I was hit by a truck when I was 11 that was paid for my insurance. Is there legal action I can take against the medical insurance company? Thank you for any advice!

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Sabrina,

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney to learn what your best legal options are.

      Thank you,


  • Erik

    I was hired full-time at my job 01/28/2013 and was placed on temp employee status for 60 days. My benefits would be active after said date. I went to a non-profit clinic for a routine physical, that my employer covers, the end of March 2013. I thought the temp employee period was 60 days but it was 60 and then starts at the 1st of the following month. That being said, I went back and forth with the clinic until they placed me in collections and I have a court summons for this dept.

    Question – I provided my health ins information to this clinic, should they have not told me that my ins was not active before allowing to see me for a preventative checkup? I know its ultimately by fault for seeing a doctor during my temp employee status but shouldn’t some blame fall on the clinic for “checking” my ins status?

    Basically, I am trying to find a way to challenge this court summons. Do you have an suggestions?

    Thank you,


    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Erik,

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney to get this sorted out.



  • Jeanine Skowronski

    Hi, Felicia,

    You can ask for written verification of the debt and you may want to consult a consumer attorney about whether you have a claim.



  • Jeanine Skowronski

    You can try negotiating with the creditors/collectors. You can also ask for an itemized bill to verify the charges.

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    It’s important to note that a collector cannot garnish paychecks or bank accounts without securing a judgement against the debtor. Also, it can be helpful to call the original service provider to see if anything can be done about the amount of the bill — particularly since the collector says they are deferring to them. More info here:





  • Jeanine Skowronski

    It may be helpful to ask your medical provider for written verification of the debt, outlining all the charges they are saying you owe. (They’re required to provide this type of notice under FDCPA within 5 days of contacting you about the debt.) Do you have written confirmation of the initial payment plan you worked out with the provider? That could be helpful in any disputes you are trying to file. This article may provide more insights:




  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Nina – I am sorry I don’t quite understand your question/situation. Did your insurance company say you shouldn’t have had a copay? In most cases, patients are responsible for the medical bill regardless of whether the insurance company covers it. Insurance billing is often a courtesy.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t know why you wouldn’t be. The copay remains your responsibility as far as I understand. (Unless you live in Texas where there is a state law about timely medical billing.)

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The statute of limitations in CT for most debts is six years and it doesn’t sounds like it has been that long. This is the copay only that you are talking about correct? Most medical providers collect that upfront from patients.

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