New process for patients dealing with medical debt close to release

U.S. medical debt has become one of the top causes of bankruptcy filings in the U.S. as a result of skyrocketing and uncontrollable costs of healthcare. Fortunately, due to pressure from Congress and regulators about concerns regarding medical bill debt collectors, proactive measures are in full force.

Late last year, the Healthcare Financial Management Association, an association that includes hospitals and healthcare financial professionals, collaborated with the ACA, a leading debt collection organization, to create a task force. The task force was encouraged to come up with guidelines on how to better handle patient medical debt.

Essentially, the main goal was to "identify a standardized process for resolving the patient portion of medical bills that should be adhered to and to provide a framework for educating patients about the patient balance resolution process."

Key recommendations

Earlier this year, the HFMS revealed key recommendations from that task force at its annual conference.

Creating a streamlined procedure regarding communication of medical bills between collection agencies and credit bureaus was one idea discussed. Enhanced communication to update collection agencies regarding patients' accounts and any changes made, including payments made by patients, was also suggested.

Future of medical debt

It remains to be seen whether these new guideless as outlined in "The Medical Debt Resolution Overview" will enhance the debt collection process in dealing with outstanding medical debt.

Additional changes may be in the works. The task force plans to review public comments regarding the guidelines and ratify them as necessary.

Once the final recommendations are determined, a list of best practices will be provided to medical providers and their affiliates. Although the guidelines aren't mandatory, they will hopefully help streamline the process of handling patient medical debt. Key factors will include patient education and communication about the costs involved.

Seeking the help of a bankruptcy attorney

It's unclear whether these recommendations will be met with open arms and implemented. However, given that healthcare costs will likely continue to rise in the United States through the upcoming years, any and all action to help mitigate financial turmoil caused to those drowning in enormous medical debt is welcome.

However, until healthcare costs stabilize, consumers dealing with medical bills are encouraged to discuss ways to alleviate their debt with a bankruptcy attorney.

Bankruptcy may not necessarily be the best or ultimate option. However, speaking with a bankruptcy attorney who understands the law and debt solutions available is a good first step.