Even After Hospital Payment, Patient Dogged By Collections Agency

ABC News Fixer has tips for medical consumers to help protect their cash.

ByABC News
April 28, 2015, 1:18 PM

— -- Dear ABC News Fixer: Back in September 2013, I had a surgical procedure at a local hospital. I had a payment plan and made monthly payments until I paid off the bill.

I have since been getting calls from a collections agency seeking $125. I have repeatedly told them that I have paid off the account, and I gave them the account number and the check number. The situation is always the same -- they take all the information and say they’ll get back to me. Months go by, I think it’s resolved, and then the incessant calls begin again.

I'm feeling harassed. This has been going on for close to 18 months and I cannot seem to get it resolved.

- Beth Becker, Deerfield, Ill.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

Dear Beth: There’s nothing more infuriating than being treated like a deadbeat when you’ve paid your bills. We had a little better luck sorting this out – and we also have advice for other consumers.

But first, to your problem: We went straight to Evonne Woloshyn, director of public affairs for Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., and asked if she could find someone to pull you off this hospital bill merry-go-round. She got on it right away, and within a day they had zeroed out your balance and called off the collections agency.

Woloshyn also offered her apologies for the inconvenience and frustration and said they will make sure the mistake doesn’t negatively impact your credit report.

It helped that you stayed organized and kept good records of your payments. For other consumers who might be in a similar situation:

  • Don’t just hope it goes away. If you get a bill – legitimate or not – from a medical provider, contact them immediately to straighten it out. Once a debt goes into collections, you’ll have a harder time untangling it and getting it off your record.
  • Be vigilant. Check your credit report often and deal with any surprises immediately. A 2012 congressionally-mandated study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in four consumers identified an error on their credit report, and one in five had an error that was corrected after they disputed it. A follow-up study released this year found most of those consumers who spotted an error believe their credit reports are still not accurate.
  • CLICK HERE for info on how to check your credit report for free and how to address errors.
  • Know your rights regarding debt collectors. If you don’t want a debt collector to contact you, send a written request. This won’t make the debt go away, but it will stop the contact. For more info, CLICK HERE.

One last note: The proposed Medical Debt Responsibility Act -- legislation that would help consumers by requiring credit reporting bureaus to remove fully paid or settled medical debt from credit reports within 45 days – has been stalled in Congress. So for now, medical bills can continue to haunt consumers, long after their physical ailments are gone.

- The ABC News Fixer

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