Believe it or not, a visit to the doctor these days may result in more than a healthcare check. Healthcare providers today are checking more than just your well being, they also may be checking your credit. While the healthcare industry may claim they are accessing consumer credit files to determine whether or not a patient is eligible for discounted services, consumer advocates don’t believe the hype.
Consumers are finding that their doctors’ offices, healthcare providers, hospitals and dentists are accessing credit reports to make sure a patient can pay before administering treatment. The healthcare industry is even pulling reports of consumers with good insurance policies because there is no guarantee that your insurance company will pay. While consumers argue that this access in an invasion of privacy, most healthcare providers do get your permission first, just read the fine print of any contract your sign with your office.
While hospitals have been pulling patient’s credit for years, its seems this trend is growing and sole practitioners and smaller healthcare clinics are jumping on the bandwagon. Because of the great expense of healthcare today, providers want to ensure they are getting paid for their work and don’t want to be chasing after a patient for payment. It’s important to know that medical credit checks are legal, but the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) is a law enacted to protect you during the process.
The FCRA permits this access for healthcare providers only in the event a patient has an outstanding balance or applies for financial aid. In the event of an emergency, a healthcare professional cannot refuse treatment if a patient is unable to pay or has poor credit. If your credit file is accessed, it is important to know that these inquiries are set up so that they cannot damage your score. Healthcare provider inquiries are considered “soft inquiries” that won’t appear on your report for anyone other than you to see. Soft inquiries are only seen by the consumer, so no other party reviewing your report will know you sought and/or received medical treatment unless you did not make payment and the account was reported to your credit file.
Since the demand for accessing credit files for healthcare providers has increased, the credit reporting industry has developed a report specifically designed for this purpose. Experian, Equifax and Trans Union are offering these “medical credit reports” at a less expensive price with reduced information to make it easier for smaller healthcare providers to gain access to the information they need. Given the fact that financial constraints on patients are at an all time high, the healthcare industry does need to protect itself. More patients are carrying health insurance with extremely high deductibles, making it difficult to pay for necessary treatment. Furthermore, more patients than ever are not carrying any form of health insurance, which obviously means more patients with an inability to pay.
While healthcare providers argue that this access allows for an open dialogue about payment obligations, consumers argue to the contrary. Consumers as a whole feel that credit checks allow healthcare providers to pressure consumers into making immediate or upfront payment for services and feel that a poor credit history could mean a provider refusing to administer treatment or limiting the amount of care given.
If you believe your rights have been violated by a healthcare professional, contact SmithMarco P.C. for a completely free case review.