It's bad enough that the lowest rung of the collection food chain mercilessly pursue financially challenged patients once they have left a medical facility but to embed them into admitting, obstetrics, labor and delivery rooms as well as registration and scheduling functions where private patient information resides is quite another.
The FTC recently went after one collector for insecure collection and retention practices. It is my sense that information security and ethical practices may not necessarily be the prime directive of some debt collectors.
Reports have surfaced that patients are being asked for "point of service" payments before receiving treatments, as well as some being discouraged from seeking lifesaving treatments. Some of these folks, in documents proffered by Minnesota's attorney general, recount tales of credit card payment requests and/or kind offers of waiting for patients to get their checkbooks out of their cars before service is rendered.
In response to two emotionally charged hearings he held in recent months, Senator Al Franken has introduced legislation to prevent debt collectors from approaching patients in emergency rooms, delivery wards and intensive care units and requiring health providers to take steps to protect patient medical information.
His legislation will extend to all hospitals existing Treasury Department regulations under the ACA banning debt collection activities in the emergency departments of federally subsidized hospitals. Further, his legislation would require health care providers to encrypt laptops and other portable devices that store patient health information — the favorite souvenir of medical identity thieves preying on the carelessness of health care workers or debt collectors.
Big things happened in America these past seven days. It still seems unlikely to me that Romney and the spawn of the John Birch Society and their latter day "dittoheads" stand any real chance of dismantling what Chief Justice Roberts (one of their heretofore heroes) so correctly preserved last week, but on the off chance the "NoMads" get a little more juice in Washington this fall, we must not allow them to undo all the good that has been accomplished over the past two years. Or at the very least, let's all agree on a common enemy, because nobody really likes debt collectors anyway, do they?
Warning: Medical Debts CAN Hurt Your Credit
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.