NBC 6 Responds Medical Debt Rescue: Fighting High Bills

When Rachel Stamatyades got a bill for more than $3,200 after a trip to the emergency room, she was overwhelmed.

“It feels like a waste of money,” she told NBC 6 Responds back in 2016.

The bill for the hour she says she spent at a local emergency room included a $60 charge for ibuprofen and left her questioning why she had been charged so much. NBC 6 Responds helped reduce her bill by a few hundred dollars after calling the hospital.

“Most people believe that the bill is what they owe,” said Michael Walrath, a Miami attorney who helps patients fight exorbitant medical bills.

According to Walrath, Florida law says patients only owe the reasonable value of the care they receive, which “…is much, much less than the full bill charges in every case I’ve ever seen in the past 10 years.”

“A hospital will have a very tough time proving in court that the reasonable value of an aspirin is $50 when we all know it isn’t,” Walrath added.

If you get a bill that you feel is too high, Walrath recommends disputing it in writing as soon as you get it.

“You should always try to negotiate with the hospital,” Walrath said. “You should never assume that you have to pay the full bill.”

He also said it’s important to dispute the bill before you start a payment plan.

“Once you start making payments on a bill, you’ve agreed to a full amount, legally speaking, so you can no longer challenge the bill as unreasonable,” Walrath said. “You can be making a very small payment a month, miss that payment and suddenly they would come after you for the full amount and they would get a judgment for that full amount because you’ve agreed to it.”

If a medical bill ends up in collections – and on your credit report – there is some good news.

“Medical Debt does not impact your credit score the way other debts do,” said April Lewis-Parks of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services. Lewis-Parks said it could take up to 6 months for medical debt to appear on your credit report and when it does, it counts less toward your credit score than other types of debt.

“Within 6 months of on-time payments, your credit score should increase,” said Lewis-Parks. “If you stay on that path, it should get better again to the way it used to be.”

Stamatyades, meanwhile, told NBC 6 she was going to figure out a way to pay to avoid any damaging marks on her credit.

“It’s caused us to have to save more, budget more, even more so than we already have,” she said.

It’s important to be proactive and check your credit report for inaccuracies at least once a year. You can do that for free at annualcreditreport.com. Some people may not even realize a medical bill has gone to collections until they check their credit report.

You can make a donation to the not-for-profit RIP Medical Debt to help rescue someone from it. Just a $10 dollar donation can wipe away $1,000 in medical debt. To donate, click here.

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