As patients in Oregon and elsewhere are aware, medical expenses can be staggering, even for those who have health insurance. All it would take is for one accident or serious illness to put a person in significant debt. Many of today’s insurance options cover only a portion of medical expenses, forcing patients to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket for copays, deductibles, medication and treatment not covered by their plan.
Not surprisingly, people across all income levels have found themselves struggling with medical debt. When bills cannot be repaid, debt collectors will often begin sending letters and making phone calls to collect what is owed. While creditors are permitted to attempt to collect a debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects consumers from misleading or abusive collection practices.
Recently, two law firms in Oklahoma were found by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to have used deceptive language in letters sent to thousands of people with medical debt. It was alleged that attorneys from the firms did not personally review the accounts, but collection letters were sent to debtors on the law firms’ letterhead with language that alluded to threats of legal action. The CFPB ordered the firms to pay a penalty and to refund $577,135 to those who had made payments in response to the alleged threats.
It is permissible for companies to attempt to collect money that is owed them. However, it violates federal law to pose as an attorney, to threaten consumers or to make false statements of impending legal action in order to collect a debt.
Source: Consumerist, “Medical Debt Collection Firms Must Refund $577K For Threatening Consumers,” Ashlee Kieler, Jan. 9, 2017