Today we tackle a common question that we often get when personal injury cases are brought to our attention: “What happens if I have medical bills before a settlement comes through?” If you’ve been involved in a car accident, workplace accident, or any other kind of personal injury, you likely have immediate expenses, but no immediate financial assistance. What can you do in these situations? Let’s ask a personal injury lawyer that knows Houston and San Antonio rules.
Whether your accident happened in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Dallas, Texas state law rules supreme. The state’s civil code determines how debt can be handled and collected. It also determines what you can receive in a personal injury lawsuit. We’ll examine the relevant laws in the state that apply to such cases and recommend some different courses of action if you find yourself facing medical bills while waiting for your settlement.
Ask a Personal Injury Lawyer: What Happens If I Have Medical Bills Before a Settlement Comes Through?
A Common Problem
First off, this situation is very common. Even with insured patients, an accident that occurs far from home may mean you had to be rushed to an out-of-network medical facility. Surprise medical bills are not uncommon even at in-network locations. And if you’re uninsured, then you’ve almost certainly been hit with major medical bills after your accident. Even if your medical bills are light, you probably missed work for a while and lost wages that would have paid those bills.
All this is to say that it is very normal to have large medical bills after being the victim of an accident. These bills come quickly after your treatment, but a settlement is almost always harder to reach. Your settlement may take months or even years to arrive. What can you do in the meantime? Let’s first look at Texas laws that apply to medical debt in these cases.
Texas Laws on Medical Debt Apply to Houston and San Antonio
Title 6, Chapter 146 of the Texas Civil Code stipulates how long hospitals can wait before billing you for the services provided on a single visit. They must send you the bill before the first day of the 11th month after treatment. So, if you received treatment due to an injury on January 15th, the absolute latest they can bill you is December 1st. After that, the debt cannot be billed or collected, even if the hospital realizes it later.
This can be used to your advantage in some circumstances, as we’ll see later. Another relevant law is a newer rule passed in 2019 that limits surprise bills in emergencies. If you went to an in-network hospital, but then received surprise medical bills because certain staff were not in-network, you can have these removed as these bills are prohibited whenever you had no choice in the matter, such as when you are rendered unconscious in an accident.
With those laws in mind, what actions can you take if you have major medical bills? Medical debt goes through several stages. First, the bill is drafted and sent to you. If you do not pay, it will be sent to a debt collection agency. Finally, your debt can be reported to credit bureaus, damaging your credit score. We always want to avoid that final step, and we can delay the other phases so that we never reach that point.
So, we’d recommend you start by working on the bill the moment you receive it. Most hospitals overbill patients hoping that they won’t challenge the charges, but by doing so you’ll not only lower your bill but buy yourself time before it heads to collections.
Negotiating a Lower Bill
The bill you receive will likely be for a large amount without many details. You need to ask for an itemized bill that lists every service and staff member involved in your treatment, along with all consumables that were used. This will take the hospital’s billing staff longer to produce and you won’t have to worry about making any payments until you wait. This is not only your legal right, it’s the smart action to take.
Imagine if you went to a restaurant and were billed for food you didn’t eat. That’s essentially what is happening here. No one is responsible for making any payments for services they did not receive. You will likely find that the new bill will be lower than the original, but we’re not done. You now need to strategically examine your itemized bill to find flaws and challenge it further.
Challenge Specific Items
Remember that Texas law prohibits surprise bills in emergencies, so take a look for any out-of-network medical personnel that may have caused your bill to rise considerably. If you see something that may go against the new state laws, send a written notification to the hospital disputing that charge in particular. You can also challenge other expenses, especially if you do not recall them being part of your treatment.
For instance, hospitals often sneak extra consumables into the bill. While you may not have been conscious throughout the treatment and therefore are unable to accurately recall the exact quantities used, certain treatments usually require a consistent amount. You may want to research what the typical consumption is for the treatment you received and question amounts that stand out.
Negotiate Payment Terms
Once you have a bill that accurately represents the amount you will have to pay, you still need to keep the bill from heading to collections. Since collections agencies charge the hospital for their services, you may be able to simply convince the hospital to skip that step entirely. Let them know that you are currently unable to pay the bill in full and that if it goes to collections, you have no intention of paying them either.
You may be able to keep your bill from going to collections entirely by agreeing to a payment plan with the hospital. Attempt to negotiate terms that allow you to make small payments until you believe your settlement will have been finalized. Doing this can buy you valuable time and keep your debt from going to collections. But what if it does?
What If My Medical Bills Go to Collections?
In the worst-case scenario, should your bills end up in the hands of a collections agency, do not panic. Medical debt is treated differently from credit card debt or a car loan. You have up to 6 months to settle your debt without it being taken to a credit bureau where it will harm your credit score. If you managed to stave off this stage of affairs, you may be able to receive your settlement within that 6-month window.
If the collections agency harasses you constantly, you can send them a written notice that you no longer wish to receive any communication from them, and they must comply. Be aware that collections agencies may sell your debt to another agency and you may have to repeat this process.
Secure a Settlement Faster
With an excellent personal injury lawyer at your side, you may be able to settle out of court faster than if you attempted to take your case to trial. This can help you avoid the worst consequences of unexpected medical debt. Call the Gamez Law Firm, located throughout Texas in cities like San Antonio and Houston. We’ll help you settle your case and get what you deserve.