“Do you mean to tell me that the hospital can make a mistake and still send me a bill? And they actually expect me to pay it?”
Many patients who are unhappy with the results of their health care, or who feel that they have been victims of medical malpractice, are surprised and angry when they continue to receive medical bills. They feel -usually justifiably so – that they are worse off than they were when they sought health care in the first place and that it is wrong for the hospital or doctor’s office to expect to be paid for poor medical care and/or the extra treatment required to “fix” that poor care. These folks often call our office to ask for advice as to whether they need to pay their bills.
As unfair as paying the bills might seem, most of the time we recommend that patients continue to do just that. At the very least, we encourage them to keep communication lines open with the billing office. There is no harm in trying to negotiate a reduction of the bill or to start a payment plan. When patients ignore their bills by not opening their mail or not returning telephone calls, health care providers often turn the bills over to collection agencies. Not only are the collection agencies generally more persistent and aggressive (and often unpleasant), but the referral of a debt to collections can be harmful to one’s credit rating. We have found that most health care provider billing departments are understanding and will work with a patient on outstanding bills so long as the patient communicates with them.
We recommend that our clients try their best to keep current on their outstanding medical bills in order to protect their credit and to make sure they continue to have access to health care. It can take several months for our office to investigate a potential medical malpractice case before we know whether we will be able to prove what we need to prove in order to pursue it. During that time, an injured patient will likely need more treatment. If a medical malpractice claim is successful, then a plaintiff patient can recover the medical bills related to the injury that are paid or outstanding. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that most medical malpractice claims are unsuccessful – either our office or another law firm declines to accept the case because of the inability to prove malpractice or the case is pursued and lost. In either situation – which can be years down the road – unpaid medical bills probably need to be paid.