Do you want debt collectors seeing your medical bills?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects your rights to privacy as a patient. Among other things, the Act requires that health care providers keep your information confidential unless you specifically given them permission to share it. Usually, that permission has to be in the form of a signed request for a provider to share specific information with a specific third party.

What happens when you owe a medical debt and the provider turns to a collection agency to help collect that debt, though? Usually, provider collections procedures are handled in house at first, which means the provider's staff is the one calling or mailing you about a debt. If you don't pay the bill within a certain amount of time, the provider may turn the bill over to a collection agency.

At the first stage of this process, the provider will only give the collection agency your name, contact information, and the amount you owe. While that includes some identifying information, such as your name and address, it does not include details about your medical record. The shared information is also usually covered by a statement you signed agreeing to be financially responsible and agreeing that the provider would work with third-parties to collect any amount owed.

If you ask a debt collector to prove your debt, however, they may contact the provider for additional information. That information could come in the form of a detailed breakdown of your bill, complete with all your medical diagnoses and procedures. If you don't want debt collectors to be able to see this information, but you still dispute the validity of a bill, you might be able to ask for a provider to send you the information directly. Understanding your legal rights when it comes to medical debts, as with any other debt, is a key to seeking a solution that works for you and resolves the debt or issue.

Source: Time, "When Debt Collectors Can See Your Medical Records," Gerri Detweiler, July 13, 2015

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