If you have an outstanding hospital bill, you're not alone. Medical collections make up half of all collection accounts for unpaid debt in the United States today. Although medical collections for hospital bills and other health care fees are not unusual on credit reports, they can damage your credit score over time. The penalties for this can be substantial.
Damage to Credit
Not paying a hospital bill can be hazardous to your credit. Medical bill delinquencies are routinely reported to credit bureaus and/or turned over to collection agencies, often resulting in a hit to your credit score each time the bill is reported as delinquent. And, as the practice of selling medical debt becomes more prevalent, expect to be reported sooner.
The damage done to your credit depends on how many bills you have outstanding and your record of paying bills in the past. If it's one hospital bill, and you have an otherwise good credit report, the damage will not be as bad, but if you rack up several unpaid medical bills, expect your credit score to begin a nosedive. In fact, just one collection account can lower a credit score 50 to 100 points. Medical delinquencies can remain on your credit report for as long as seven years.
Loss of Services
If you really like your regular health care providers, paying your bills is a must – otherwise, they can refuse to see you. While emergency rooms cannot turn patients away, clinics, private practices and even some hospitals can and will refuse to provide services to those whose accounts are in arrears. If you are in the midst of extensive treatments for an ongoing condition, or need regular medical care for a condition, not paying your bill can leave you vulnerable as a result of refusal of services.
Potential Legal Trouble
If you decide not to pay a sizable hospital bill, or have not paid other bills at the same hospital in the past, you may be setting yourself up for legal consequences. Hospitals – or collection agencies hired by hospitals – can turn debt over to an attorney who can file a legal claim against you if you do not pay. If the court decides that the hospital or collection agency has a good case, you will be ordered to repay, which can result in garnishment of wages or money you have in the bank.
A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.