Stop or Prevent Collections
150 Day Rule
If you are uninsured or give the hospital information that you may have high medical costs, the hospital is not allowed to send you to collections or sue you within 150 days (5 months) of the first billing, even if you are not eligible for their Fair Pricing discount.
If your hospital violates this rule, please file a complaint with the state regulator and follow the directions below to stop collections activity.
Protection While Applying, Appealing and Negotiating
The hospital is also not allowed to send you to collections or sue you if you are:
- in the process of applying for the Fair Price discount or charity care, and trying in good faith to negotiate a reasonable payment plan or making regular partial payments of a reasonable amount;
in the process of appealing a denial of coverage with your health insurance company, disability insurance company, Medi-Cal or Medicare. In this case, the hospital may not sue or report you to a credit reporting agency until a final determination is made.
If a hospital sends you to collections or sues you in any of these circumstances, please file a complaint and follow the directions below to stop collections activity.
Additional Protections for Qualified Patients
If you qualify for the Fair Price discount, the hospital may not:
- charge interest as part of your payment plan,
- garnish your wages, except after a court hearing at which you have a chance to show you can't pay, or
put a lien on your primary home.
If a hospital does any of these things, please file a complaint.
How to Stop Collections
1) Call the hospital billing office to notify them of their error and request that all collection activity be stopped until a final determination is made, a payment agreement reached, or at least until 150 days from the date of their first bill.
2) Get the name and fax number or email of the person you speak with and follow up by faxing or emailing a letter to that person right away to ask them to stop collections and let you apply for a discount.
3) Call the collection agency to notify them that the hospital sent you to collections in violation of state law and request they stop all collection activity until a final determination is made, a payment agreement reached, or 150 days has passed from the date of the hospital's first bill.
4) Fax or email the collection agency with this same information. Click here for a sample "Stop Collections" letter to a collection agency. Keep all your correspondence.
Limits on Abusive Practices by Debt Collectors
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets additional limits on what collection agencies can do to collect a debt.
Debt collectors may not tell your family members or co-workers about your debt unless that other person is your spouse, attorney or co-signer.
Debt collectors may call neighbors or relatives in their attempts to contact you, if they don't know where you live. But they may not say they are calling to collect a debt and, once they find you, those calls must stop.
Please report violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to the Federal Trade Commission here.
If your hospital bills result from injury caused by a third party (e.g., an auto accident or assault), the hospital may not place a lien against any funds you receive in settlement for the accident, even if you are uninsured, except in certain limited circumstances.
If you are being sued, you should seek legal advice from your local Health Consumer Center or other legal assistance organization.
- ConsumerAffairs.com: Debt Collector Abuses Continue; Tougher Federal Law Needed, Advocates Say (4/10)