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Debt collectors force emergency room patients to pay up

When a person is in need of immediate medical attention, their personal debt is probably one of the last things on their mind. Unfortunately, many emergency room patients have been confronted by their medical debt collectors as they are trying to receive treatment. Reports indicate that patients around the country, including Tennessee, are being forced to pay their bills in order to receive treatment.

Accretive Health, the nation's largest medical debt collection agency, has been publicly criticized for their aggressive collection methods. The tactics are a result of hospitals desperately seeking money for unpaid medical bills. In the past, it was not uncommon for collectors to approach patients after medical visits, but confronting debtors in the emergency room is something new, but is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Hospitals have even allowed debt collectors to be embedded among other employees, so their appearance is unassuming. When they approach patients about unpaid debts, they demand payment or try to sway the individuals away from receiving medical attention. There were even some incidents where the collection company had access to confidential medical records, which is a possible breach of federal privacy laws.

Employees of the debt collection agency are pressured to meet quotas or face termination. This has spurred many collectors to be especially forceful in their practices. Patients are being asked to pay for their care up-front, which is something many people have never encountered.

This growing trend, coupled with mounting unpaid medical bills nationwide, has many concerned that patients will be the ones who end up suffering the most. Aside from patients being discouraged from seeking emergency room care, hospitals may begin to cut corners to save money. Furthermore, this practice may be in violation of a federal law that requires hospitals to provide care regardless of a person's financial situation.

Tennessee residents should not have to be in the position to decide whether or not to receive medical care for themselves or their children. It's an impossible conundrum. When a person becomes overburdened by their medical expenses, there are some debt relief options available for consideration, including personal bankruptcy. Every family's circumstance is unique, so it may be best to consult with a debt relief or bankruptcy professional to weigh all available opportunities to return to financial independence.

Source: The New York Times, "Debt Collector Is Faulted for Tough Tactics in Hospitals," Jessica Silver-Greenberg, April 24, 2012

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Mark T. Young & Associates
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