Knowledge is power.
If you clicked on this article, you're not alone. About 1 in 5 Americans have medical debt they are struggling to pay. The good news is you have very good options you probably do not know about.
1. Apply for Hospital Financial Assistance: Many large hospitals are required by state and federal law to reduce the costs to patients for any out-of-pocket costs. This can often apply regardless of whether you have insurance. Call the hospital and ask how you apply for financial assistance. However, hospitals often do not properly calculate your income, often misinterpret the law or their own policy, and regularly do not offer people the full reduction they are legally entitled to. If you wish to apply for hospital financial assistance, or already have, we recommend you schedule a free consultation with an attorney at Navigate to make sure you are granted the full reduction.
2. Seek assistance from nonprofits: There are nonprofit organizations that exist solely to help people pay for medical debt. Full disclosure, I sit on the board of directors for the non-profit I'm about to recommend. A great non-profit that does this for people in the Pacific Northwest is Dollar For Portland.
3. Do not ignore it: Many people have an "out of site, out of mind" attitude towards debt. This can only get you so far. Hospitals routinely contract with collection firms and turn over accounts after a certain amount of time. If a collector calls you who is not an employee of the hospital they will likely file a lawsuit against you to collect the debt (and possibly soon!) This can hurt your credit, result in your bank account or wages being garnished, and cause you an immense amount of stress. It also can make it more difficult to take advantage of any hospital financial assistance program that may be available.
Medical debt feels unfair. You didn't ask for it, you weren't being irresponsible - it just happened to you. The good news is there are options. I've developed a unique practice in working with clients who have medical debt to find a solution that they can afford and feel good about. If you have medical debt and would like to schedule a free consultation you can email Eli Marchbanks, Navigate's consumer protection and medical debt lawyer at email@example.com or call at (360) 205-2256.
You've probably heard by now about the Equifax data breach. Equifax is one of three major credit reporting agencies in the country. Every time someone runs a credit check on you, they are very likely looking at information Equifax has compiled about you. This company holds an immense amount of data on hundreds of millions of Americans. 143 million people had their information stolen in a recent Equifax security breach. If you are one of these people, this could include your address, date of birth, banking information, social security number, and other sensitive information. To find out if Equifax thinks your information was stolen you can find out here. If your information is out there, it will likely be out there for a long time. Identity theft can follow people for years. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
The most drastic step is called a "credit freeze." This is when you have a security pin that you use to "freeze" and "unfreeze" your credit. You would have to unfreeze it every time you want to open up a new line of credit, which can be very cumbersome, time-consuming, and often is attached to a fee.
This option requires anyone who wants to open up a line of credit for you to contact you via the method you indicate. For example, if someone takes your name, date of birth, and social security number to CapitalOne and tries to get a credit card, you could require CapitalOne to call your cell phone and confirm that you are actually the one trying to open up a line of credit. When you file a fraud alert you can also get a free credit report to see if there is has been any fraudulent activity. This option is free, but only lasts for 90 days. However, if you have evidence that someone has already committed fraud using your identity then you can get an extended fraud alert which lasts for 7 years.
Eli Marchbanks is Navigate Law Group's consumer protection lawyer. If you want more information on either of these options, or need assistance going through the process, he can be reached by phone at (360) 205-2256 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a national study on the state of medical debt in America. The findings were shocking. Approximately 26% of Americans have medical debt they are struggling to pay. For many people the debt is affecting every aspect of their lives. 70% of respondents with debt reported having to cut back spending on food, clothing, or other basic household items because of their debt. What's worse is many people do not know if their hospital provides financial assistance.
Federal and state law require many hospitals to provide services at a drastically reduced rate for people who qualify. Washington law even requires hospitals to tell people about these laws (which they often do not). Still, 47% of respondents to the Kaiser survey had no idea if their hospital offered reduced fees. Many people who qualify never learn about the programs. Even worse, many people who do learn of these programs are improperly denied by the hospital. These are real laws that have real teeth if the hospitals do not strictly honor them.
Eli Marchbanks is Navigate Law Group's medical debt attorney. He will provide a fee consultation to look at your situation and tell you if he thinks you qualify for reduced medical bills. Even if you have already overpaid, he may be able to get your money back from the hospital. Further, he structures his fee so he does not get paid unless he reduces your medical bills.
To set up a free consultation call Eli at (360) 205-2256 or email email@example.com.
According to the Spokesman-Review, on June 12 a lawsuit was filed against Deaconess and Valley hospitals in Spokane for failure to comply with the Washington Charity Care Act. The article indicates that people who make up to 100% of the poverty line are entitled to free health care at major hospitals in Washington, and people who make up to 200% of the poverty line are entitled to substantial discounts. While this is true, the article leaves out the fact that Washington law is much more robust than that. In many instances, people with a household income below 400% of the poverty line are entitled to a substantial reduction in their medical bills. To put this in perspective, a household of 4 could make over $97,000 per year and still qualify for a reduced bill.
Not every person in Washington is entitled to reduced medical bills, and not every hospital in Washington must offer a reduction in cost. However, in 2015 $532 million worth of Washington hospital revenue was from reduced fee billings. As the Spokane lawsuit estimates, this is in light of the fact that many hospitals do not make it easy for people to learn about the laws or get a reduction when they qualify. There are likely thousands or tens of thousands of people in Washington with medical debt who are entitled to a substantial reduction.
At Navigate, we can help you determine if you qualify for a reduced fee and assert your rights if you do. If you think you may qualify for reduced medical debt you should contact an attorney.
Eli Marchbanks, Medical Debt Attorney
In a recent New York Times article, the Times reported what we have known at Navigate Law Group for quite some time - debt collection agencies make critical mistakes very often. According to a report by the United States Public Interest Research Group, medical debt is the second largest cause of complaints about debt collectors to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 63% of complaints allege that the collection efforts are for a deb that was never owed in the first place, has already been paid, or the collector cannot verify it is owed. This is nearly two-thirds of collection efforts for medical debt in the country! The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Washington Consumer Protection Act provide people with some protection against these types of collection practices. Washington also has strong laws that protect consumers with medical debt. Even if you owe the medical debt in Washington a Navigate Law Group attorney may be able to help you drastically reduce the amount of that debt depending on your income at the time of your hospital stay and the hospital you went to. If you have Washington medical bills contact attorney Eli Marchbanks at (360) 205-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits specific forms of communication by debt collectors. Specifically, debt collectors cannot contact debtors via post card. This is a bit out-dated as the law does not specifically address more common forms of communication like text message and social media. While the FDCPA does not explicitly address these types of communication, text message and social media communication make it difficult for debt collectors to be in compliance with other portions of the FDCPA.
One example is providing appropriate disclosures. Section 807(11) of the FDCPA requires the first communication by a debt collector to identify (1) that they are a collector, (2) that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt, and (3) that any information obtained will be used for that purpose. This is difficult to do is a text message, and there have been recent instances in which collectors who use text message did not comply with that requirement.
Another requirement of the FDCPA is that collectors cannot reveal the existence of a debt to a third party. Many communications via social media are view-able by third parties. If a collector published a communication on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed it would likely be in violation of the FDCPA. Further, debt collectors must not use deceptive trade practices, so "friending" you under a fake Facebook account could likely be a violation as well.
Every violation of the FDCPA carries with it the possibility of damages up to $1,000 and mandatory attorney's fees. This means that if the debt collector violates an applicable provision of the FDCPA, they may have to pay you a fee and they will have to cover the cost of your lawyer. If you think a debt collector has violated the FDCPA contact Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group by phone or email at (360) 205-2256 or email@example.com to set up a free consultation.
The most recent data by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that debt collection agencies are not honoring the rules in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the Washington Collection Agencies Act. The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) recently reported some of the CFPB's findings:
If you have been contacted by a debt collector and think they may have violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or Washington Collection Agency Act, Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group may be able to defend you at no charge to you. Call or email him at (360) 205-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation.
An estimated 53% of debt collection efforts have a major error such as they are for the wrong person, the wrong amount, or the debt is not even owed! This shows that the debt collection industry is far from perfect and collection agencies often make mistakes. Just because you receive a demand from a collector does not mean you should automatically pay. If you think the debt collector has made a mistake you should make sure that is known. Regardless of whether you think the collector has made a mistake or not, the following rules likely apply to the debt collector. The following rules only apply to collection agencies – not the originally creditor. If a debt collector violated one of these rules, Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group may be able to take your case at no charge to you:
There are many laws governing debt collectors and this list is far from complete. There are many rights you have that protect you from harassing, unfair, or unsavory collection efforts. If a debt collector violates just one of these laws under state or federal law, you may be entitled to relief of your obligation to pay, additional damages, and/or to have the collection agency pay for your attorney.
If you think you have been subject to unfair collection efforts by a collection agency in Washington or Oregon call Eli Marchbanks at Navigate Law Group today for a free consultation. Eli can be reached at (360) 205-2256 and email@example.com.
Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.