Report: Medical debt collections draw scrutiny

USA Today
Ken Altucker

Routine medical bills can take months to sort out — particularly if a doctor, hospital or other medical service was not part of a consumer’s health insurance network.

It’s even more challenging for consumers when bills are sent to medical-debt collectors and reported to credit bureaus based on outdated or incorrect information.

But a new report offers a narrow glimpse into what can happen long after a patient leaves a doctor’s office or hospital and disputes or refuses payment of a bill. Hospitals and doctors often deal with unpaid bills. Some turn to debt collectors to get what the insurance company, the consumer or both refused to pay.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group recently reported that 63% of U.S. consumers who filed 17,701 complaints with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau contend that collectors sought payment for a debt that wasn’t owed or already was paid, discharged in bankruptcy court or unverified.

Consumers also complained about collection tactics such as incessant calling, making threats, contacting employers and filing lawsuits against consumers for debt that is not verified or enforceable. The report suggests that many of these practices run afoul of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which regulates the debt-collection industry.