Most Illinois consumers have at least heard of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPAA). This statute protects the privacy of your medical information. All Illinois hospitals and doctor’s offices require patients to sign medical privacy forms before treatment. HIPAA requires these forms and takes violations very seriously. So how is HIPAA handled when medical bills go unpaid? Are debt collectors in violation of HIPAA when they include medical information with debt verification?
The Myth about Debt Collectors and Your Medical History
Some Illinois consumers firmly believe that no medical debt collector may look at someone’s medical history. This prompts some consumers with unpaid medical debts to demand verification from their debt collector. They do this in hopes that the debt collector, restricted by HIPAA, won’t be able to verify the debt.
What if the debt collector sends the consumer a detailed medical bill? Many medical care recipients in Illinois believe that such debt collectors are in violation of HIPAA. However, this isn’t necessarily accurate.
Keep in mind that privacy rules vary from state to state. For the most part, though, there appears to be no conflict between HIPAA and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
When Debt Collectors are permitted to View the Medical Histories of Illinois Consumers
Illinois residents should understand that no debt collector may view your medical information without permission. Yet, if you request verification of a medical debt, you are, in essence, giving them permission to obtain and pass along this information. According to a representative from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), this interpretation is consistent with HIPAA laws.
Here is the direct quote from the DHHS:
“If you specifically ask either a healthcare provider or its collection agency to provide you with verification of the specifics of a medical debt you incurred, you are in essence giving them permission under HIPAA to get you that information and supply it to you. In some instances, a collection agency’s client, the Hospital or Physician, may choose to send you that information directly.”
If any Illinois consumer does not want a medical debt collector to view their medical bill, they have the right, under HIPAA, to obtain the information from the healthcare provider directly. HIPAA requires these providers to respond to patients who make these requests within a reasonable timeframe.
Tips for Illinois Consumers on How to Handle Medical Debt
In Illinois and the rest of the country, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy filings. For many consumers – even those with good medical insurance – just one hospital bill is often financially devastating. However, looking for HIPAA loopholes is definitely not a good way to deal with medical debt.
Most healthcare providers respond positively to consumers who are open and honest about their financial situations. So the best way to handle medical bills that you actually owe is to talk to someone from your hospital or doctor’s office. More often than not, they will work out a payment plan with you that will allow you to pay what you owe and protect your credit score.
On the other hand, overcharged Illinois medical care recipients can and should dispute the debts. Again, going directly to the healthcare provider is the best way to dispute inaccurate medical bills. If this doesn’t work and wrongful medical debt ends up on your credit reports, you may need legal assistance.
How Illinois Consumers can get Medical Debt off their Credit Reports
After September 15 of 2017, consumers should notice changes in how medical debt is reported to the credit bureaus. From this point, medical debt may not show up on consumer credit reports unless it is at least six months old. This window of time is meant to give the insurance companies pay their portions of hospital and doctor bills. It also give wrongfully or overcharged Illinois consumers a chance to dispute their bills.
Of course, even with these policy changes, there’s always a chance that some medical debt items will slip through the cracks and end up on credit reports prematurely. If the credit reporting agencies never made mistakes, everyone in Illinois would have perfect credit reports. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Errors on credit reports are incredibly common, and many of these mistakes are damaging to credit scores.
Luckily, if you have inaccuracies on your credit reports due to wrongful medical debt or anything else, help is available. Credit Repair Lawyers of America now offers FREE legal services in Illinois, and we are excited about bringing our experience and knowledge to the residents of the Prairie State.
The Free and Legal Way to Get Better Credit
Don’t let errors or medical debt reporting mistakes on your credit reports bring your credit score down. At Credit Repair Lawyers of America, we’ve been cleaning up credit reports for consumers since 2008 for free. How do we do it? All of our fees come from the defendants in settled cases. This is why our clients pay nothing for the work we do.
Let’s start the conversation about what we can do for your credit. Set up your free consultation today by calling Attorney Gary Nitzkin at (404)591-6680 or sending him a message through our contact page.