Medical bills can bring stress to anyone. This is especially true when you receive medical care arising from a car accident. It’s especially stressful when you receive medical services and then you aren’t sure if you will be able to pay for them. In Colorado, it’s not uncommon for people to receive medical bills from a car accident that they cannot pay, either because of a lack of insurance or high deductibles. When this happens, you might wonder how much risk there is in regarding the possibility of being sued for those outstanding medical bills. It depends on a variety of factors including whether or not the bill is out of network and whether or not it was an emergency service. Keep reading to learn more about your risk of being sued for medical bills under different circumstances in Colorado.
What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Outstanding Medical Bills?
If you have received medical services and don’t pay for them, the first thing that might happen is that your provider will send you a bill. Often victims of car accidents receive emergency medical care and proper health care insurance information isn’t transmitted to the various entities that provide care – ranging from ambulance companies, EMTs, emergency care physicians, radiologists, and surgeons. Individuals involved in car accidents often don’t realize that while medical care is provided at a central location such as a hospital, the individual providers are not employed by the hospital itself and maintain separate billing offices. You will likely receive a bill in the mail. If you don’t pay the bill, your provider might attempt to collect the debt by taking you to court. There are various options for medical providers when collecting on a debt. Your provider can send you “collection notices.” They might report your debt to credit agencies. They might place a lien on your house. They might send your account to a debt collector. If your medical provider takes you to court, they can win a judgment against you. Once a judgment is entered against you, a lien might be placed on your property. A judgment stays on your record for years.
Can You Be Sued For Unpaid Medical Bills in Colorado – A New Colorado Law Provides Increased Consumer Protections.
As discussed above, if you don’t pay medical bills, the medical provider can sue you. To motivate hospitals to comply with federal hospital pricing transparency laws, Gov. Jared Polis signed HB 22-1285, “Prohibit Collection Hospital Not Disclosing Prices,” into law on June 8, 2022. Specifically, this law provides that hospitals may not pursue collection actions against patients or their guarantors for debts incurred for services provided to patients at a time when the hospital was not in material compliance with federal price transparency laws.
Under Colorado’s new law, C.R.S. 25-3-803 patients are protected from receiving surprise medical bills for more emergency and non-emergency services, along with bills from in- and out-of-network providers, including out-of-network air ambulance services, which can be extremely expensive.
Federal price transparency law requires hospitals to post a comprehensive machine-readable list of their services and prices as well as a patient-friendly tool to help shop for 300 common services since Jan. 1, 2021. The new Colorado measure, which was introduced by and had the support of lawmakers on both sides of the political divide, would allow patients to sue hospitals if they receive an unexpected bill and they can show that the hospital was not in full compliance with a hospital price transparency rule that went into effect last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Under Federal price transparency laws, Noncompliant hospitals receive a warning and a request for a corrective action plan from the agency and, if necessary, civil monetary penalties up to $300 per day and a public name-and-shame on CMS’ Hospital Price Transparency website. To date, just two hospitals have been issued penalties. On June 7, 2022, CMS imposed the first civil monetary payments for noncompliance with price transparency laws on two Georgia hospitals; CMS fined the hospitals $883,180 and $214,320, respectively, after issuing a number of warning letters and communications to them. According to a report from PatientRightsAdvocate.org, only 6% of hospitals in the state were in full compliance with the price transparency law at the end of 2021. The national average of compliance was only 14.3%.
Colorado’s New Law, C.R.S. 25-3-803, Requires Hospitals to Comply with Certain Requirements Before you Can You Be Sued For Medical Bills in Colorado.
Under Colorado’s Hospital Discounted Care law, all hospitals in the state are required to:
- Screen patients to see if they qualify for help paying their bills
- Inform patients of their rights
- Offer discounts and affordable payment plans on hospital care to patients who qualify based on their income
- Take certain steps before sending an unpaid hospital bill to collections.
In addition to creating a private right of action for a patient to sue a hospital if the hospital initiates or pursues a collection action against the patient and the patient believes that the hospital was not in compliance with price transparency laws on the day the patient received care, House Bill 22-1285 also requires a hospital that is found to be out of material compliance with federal price transparency laws to refund any amount of debt that has been paid. It also allows the patient to recover attorneys’ fees and expenses if a debt collection action occurs, hinders the patient’s credit report, and demands the elimination of information.
If you have received a past-due notice or notice from a debt collector regarding an outstanding debt, this means you can dispute the debt and request they provide documentation of compliance with C.R.S. 25-3-803, often the hospital cannot provide proof of compliance and the debt will be eliminated or drastically reduced.
Medical bills are stressful, and it can be scary to consider the possibility of being sued for one. Colorado’s law provides increased protection for individuals injured in car accidents. Know your rights and arm yourself with successful arguments to eliminate unpaid bills from Colorado Hospitals. If you receive medical care from a car accident and cannot pay for it, schedule a free consultation with a trusted Denver, Colorado accident attorney at Mandelaris Law by calling (303)357-9757.