Information on Help with Hospital Bills

Need some advice on how to reach a payment agreement for hospital bills.

I have been temporarily laid off and called a hospital that I have been making regular payments to in order to make new payment arrangements with them. I was sent a lengthy form which I was told I must fill out in order to get any kind of extension or refinancing at all, even temporarily. These forms ask for very personal info, even my bank acct. number! I was shocked. Can they legally require this information from me? Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

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Bill's Answer
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  • The laws governing medical billing vary between states.
  • Contact the medical service provider to set up a payment plan.

The laws governing hospital billing and payments vary greatly between states, counties, and cities, and may apply differently depending on whether it is a private or public hospital, as well as other factors. To find out the specifics regarding the legality of the hospital’s requests, you would need to consult with a qualified attorney with knowledge of pertaining laws in the hospital's jurisdiction.

That said, many hospitals have a financial counselor/financial assistance office where you can meet with someone face-to-face or over the telephone to discuss your situation. You should feel free to ask them why they request specific information and if they will accept alternatives. You might want to keep in mind that some hospitals allow their financial assistance office a certain degree of latitude in evaluating hardship cases, so engaging them in a polite and courteous manner may help you as you negotiate your case.

When having problems regarding medical bills, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the following:

  •  Notify the appropriate offices quickly.
  •  Keep in touch with your creditors.
  •  Record the names and phone numbers of who you are dealing with.
  •  Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls.
  •  Pay something — even a small amount — on each bill each month as a gesture of good faith.

I would also encourage you to download our free Personal Finance Budget Guide. It may help you plan your money management as you navigate the road ahead.

Good Luck,

Bill

Bills.com

25 Comments

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  • 35x35
    Apr, 2012
    Jane
    I live in AZ. My husband works part time making less than 10/hr and due to my health situation I will probably not be able to go back to my 10/hr job. We have very little savings. We have very little in bills. We own our house outright (thank god). I am about to have a procedure done at a private hospital in Phoenix and have the Federal Pre-existing insurance (PCIP). Unfortunately the deductible is $1000, and I pay 20% of the bill up to $4000. And I have to find a way to keep paying my insurance premiums of $500 month. I know I will incur about $5000 debt total with this visit, how much should I expect to have to pay a month to the hospital (hopefully they will take monthly payments not sure). How do I negotiate a reasonable monthly payment? I own my house outright and am worried about loosing it (to debt from this). Any ideas greatly appreciated.
    0 Votes

    • 35x35
      Apr, 2012
      Bill
      I think your options are to speak with the hospital billing office. You can do so before the procedure or after. It may be prudent to wait until after, to make sure that your disclosure does not jeopardize the care you need to receive.

      I can't give you an estimate for the size of the monthly payment that the hospital will accept. I can tell you that, in a worst case scenario, an unpaid debt could lead to a lawsuit, judgment, and collection efforts that include wage garnishment, bank levy, and a lien against you. Even if a lien is filed and would need to be paid if you sold the home, the odds that it could lead to you losing your house are astronomically small. I have not heard of a case where a homeowner is forced to sell her home for a few thousand dollar debt.
      0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2011
    Karin
    Two years ago I had my gall bladder removed, I paid my deductible, I paid off the anesthesiologist which was $600.00 plus I paid off other fees. Soon after I got laid off, and because I could not find a job,I live in Las Vegas, I had to apply for Social Security Benefits. I have paid $25.00 every single month, and now the hospital wants me to pay $1,616.66 in full or they will send me to a collection agency. I am on a fixed budget and can't afford to pay it off. When I spoke to the person at the hospital, his reply was to get a loan to pay the hospital off. Can the Hospital send my account to a collection agency even though I have not missed a payment? I need your help on this.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Mar, 2011
    xxxPushXXX
    Can a hospital or a court put a lien on my house that I own for outrageous docters bills? I am from Michigan.
    0 Votes

    • 35x35
      Mar, 2011
      Bill
      Your word "outrageous" gives me pause. By outrageous do you mean unreasonable? If you were charged for services you did not receive, or were charged significantly more than promised or the going rate for the services received, then you may have a cause of action for a breach of contract lawsuit against the service providers. However, just because a medical bill is large does not make it outrageous. A $100,000 medical bill to diagnose a sprained ankle may be unreasonable, but $100,000 for a heart transplant may be a bargain.

      If the charges are reasonable, then depending on your state's debt laws, yes, a judgment-debtor may have the right to place a lien on your real property. Consult with a lawyer in your state who has experience in civil litigation or medical malpractice to learn more about your rights.
      0 Votes

    • 35x35
      Mar, 2011
      xxxPushXXX
      Ok many thanks for the info,,,
      0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Jan, 2011
    Nichole
    My parents live in Florida. A couple of years ago my mother (who is 63, a cancer survivor and uninsured and unisurable) was in the hospital for a month. One of the many hospital bills was for $27,900. My father who is 80 and retired only lives on his social security and therefore they are unable to pay. When the debt collectors got involved they lowered it greatly but wanted $5000 in a lump sum, in which my parents could not do still. The hospital ended up taking the case to court and came to the conclucion that my parents are now responsible for the original amount of $27,900 and have therefore put a lien on their house with 4% interest until paid. There house isn't worth much more than the amount to begin with. What can I do to help them? I live in CA and I feel like there has to be something else that can be done. Do you have any suggestions? My parents are both not that educated and I feel like I am capable of doing more research and finding help for them but I just don't know where to start. Please help! Thank you!
    0 Votes

    • 35x35
      Jan, 2011
      Bill
      Nichole, there are two main options I see. One is to negotiate with the hospital to see if they will accept a reduced pay-off to settle the debt. If you were not able to help your parents pay the $5,000 settlement that was offered to clear out the debt, previously, then you may not be able to help them now. However, you may not have aware of the $5,000 settlement offer when it was made. If negotiating is not an option, maybe your parents should consider filing bankruptcy. Do they have any other debts? As residents of Florida, if they qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that will discharge their debts, all the equity in their home is protected. I recommend that you and your parents speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney who is located in Florida.
      0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Dec, 2010
    A bit of background: A debt, which is called a collection account, is an asset that can be bought, sold, gifted, or traded. Typically, collection agents buy and sell collection accounts for pennies on the dollar. Apparently, City National Bank buys delinquent medical collection accounts, although a quick review of the bank's 10K statement indicates this is not a large part of its business. Just because it is a bank does not give City National Bank any special or different rights than any other collection agent. Negotiate your debt terms and payment plan like you would with a collection agent. Before you start, validate the debt.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    May, 2010
    Bill
    You are asking me to speak on behalf of the billing department of your friend's hospital. Contact the billing departments of area hospitals. Explain the situation to each, and explain your findings to your friend.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    May, 2010
    Jen
    Hi, My friend is pregnant without a health insurance, she also does not have a SSN as she is still working on legalizing her papers with the INS - she has a decent job but could not afford to pay her "would be" medical bills in full, are payment plans available? And if so, what must she do to have everything worked out before she gives birth?
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Jan, 2010
    Bill
    A creditor usually retains the right to sell or assign a debt to a third party. It is legal for a collection agent -- and here the bank is a collection agent that bought your collection account -- to charge the consumer interest on the unpaid balance.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Jan, 2010
    Khisha
    I live in Texas. The letter from City National Bank says they bought my debt from Texas Health Resources (THR). I was paying $100 a month but the hospital wanted $163 a month. When they emailed me my payment options one of them was to finance through City National but I did not respond back to the email with my SS number like they wanted because I did not want to pay interest on a hospital bill. They called a lot but the bill was never turned over to a collection agency. I received a letter from the hospital stating that the bank had bought my debt and all future payments would need to be made to the bank. I am stuck and I am not sure on what to do. If I make the first payment I am agreeing to pay interest and if I don't it is going on my credit (THR owns Baylor and Harris Methodist Hospitals). What is more crazy is my husband works for this company and they did this. Without my permission can they go ahead and finance my bill through a bank?
    0 Votes

    • 35x35
      Dec, 2010
      Alana
      I am also in Texas. I have a $575 bill that I owed to Texas Health Resources. I too received a letter from City National Bank stating that I could pay it in full or set-up \"a payment plan\" for monthly payments, that includes interest added and penalties for late payments, like any credit card. I did not respond and sign anything agreeing to an interest bearing account. I received a bill from City National Bank today with a minimum payment due, a late fee, and interest added. How can this legally been done?
      0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Jan, 2010
    Bill
    I would be stunned to learn that a state or federally chartered bank bought a medical collection account. My guess is that a collection agent bought the account from the hospital. Because you do not mention your state of residence or the amount of the original debt, I cannot comment if the offer you received violates any state laws.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Jan, 2010
    Khisha
    I was in the hospital and was making payments on what I owed and the hospital sold my bill to a bank..Now the bank is saying I can pay the $1700.00 in full or pay it out at 15% interest. Is this legal?
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Dec, 2009
    Bill
    First, debt related to medical services is unsecured, unless someone (perhaps the person who brought your ex-spouse to the hospital) signed an agreement to be your ex-spouse's guarantor. Speak to your children and ask to see any forms or documents they may have signed, and look for any language that states the signatory is the guarantor of their father's debt. If such a document was signed, the signatory may be responsible for paying your ex-spouse's medical debts. However, the signatory should consult with an attorney in your state before assuming they have unlimited liability for the patient's medical debt. Second, upon a person's death, his or her estate is responsible for all of the decedent's liabilities. These debts will be paid by an executor or administrator in the probate process. There is no feudal debt bondage that ensnares a family upon a debtor's death -- at least not in the United States. See Am I Liable for My Deceased Spouse's Debts? for more information about a family's liability for a decedent's debt.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Dec, 2009
    Linda
    My ex husband may die soon, he is currently in ICU for over 8 days on life support. He has no insurance health/life. What are the money ramifications on our adult children from the hospital and creditors? He owns a home with a mortgage that I pay(homesteaded), he does own outright a boat and motorcycle. Im trying to help my children through this horrible time and not let them have to suffer through the bills. He lives in Florida.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Dec, 2009
    Bill
    This is an unfortunate problem with many medical billing practices -- they are unwilling to accept a partial payment. Typically, medical bills are due (similar to an invoice) at point of billing. Unlike loans or installment payment contracts, where you can pay an obligation in monthly periodic payments, they will expect payment in full upon billing. They are correct that they will likely send the unpaid portion out to collection. You can try to negotiate with collection agency to make payments.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Dec, 2009
    S
    I owe a hospital in Georgia for my deductible. I have been sending payments to the hospital but they contacted me stating they were not in the business of taking payments, if I could not pay them in full they would send me to collections. Is this legal? Don't they have to try and set up a payment plan for me?
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2009
    Bill
    Debt related to medical services is unsecured. In the eyes of the law, medical debt is no different than a credit card debt, or a deficiency balance from a repossession, or a payday loan. Therefore, I want you to read two of my recent answers to other readers who had similar questions regarding unsecured debt. First, read "What Are My Debt Consolidation Options?." The point of this article is to show you what your options are, and the positives and negatives of each. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to debt, and you need to pick the option that is best for you. Second, read "Collections Advice." This will help you understand your rights as a consumer. Just because you are in debt does not mean you lost your rights. As you mentioned, you have a $67,000 problem. Take some time to understand your rights and options. One last thought -- do not believe legal advice offered by debt collectors. The legal advice many debt collectors offer is usually incomplete or wrong, and is always self-serving.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2009
    Jolena
    No Medical Insurance and I had a heart attack and was in the hospital for 2 1/2 days. I received my doctor and hospital bill and ambulance bill...the total amount was $67.000.00 dollars. I called and tried to set up a monthly fee schedule with each one..That I could afford..and they said no you must pay as follows Hospital $3000.00 a month Doctor $2000.00 a month Which equals $5000.00 a month. and the Ambulance wants me to pay them with in 90 days.($7000.00 pay in full in 90 days.) I live on my IRA and other retirement funds I have no other income. I am not old enough for Social Security or Medicare. They said they would set up (as stated above)as my monthly payment fee and charge me 8.5 % to on the monthly balance each month until I am paid up. I live on my retirment funds of $1.500.00 a month. I need all my retirment funds to live on until I die. Can they force me to withdraw all my funds to pay them...If I do that ..what will I live on when all that is gone.?? I was told sell "your house or take a loan out or we will see you in court and take you house. I offer to pay them something every month. They say no. Pay us what you owe or we will see you in court. What should I do.? I was told that I had to pay
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2009
    Bill
    The Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector collects taxes from residents in Los Angeles County. Unless you have not paid your taxes, I cannot conceive of any scenario where you would be in contact with the county tax collector, and certainly not for the collection of a private debt. I urge you learn more about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which governs the rules that debt collectors must follow. See the Federal Trade Commission's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Links page for more information.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2009
    JoEllyn
    Can a hospital refer a collection account to the Treasury Tax Collector for collection of the debt? I reside in California (Los Angeles County).
    0 Votes