CFPB: Unpaid medical bills may inequitably impact credit scores

Unlike most circumstances in which consumers are free to shop around when purchasing various goods and services, they are often left with little choice when it comes to seeking and procuring medical treatment. Indeed, when immediate medical attention is required, even the slightest of delays can tragically lead to further injury, or even death – meaning there typically is no time to search for the best “deal.”

Consequently, in most situations, patients have no idea what their final bill will be until after their procedures are completed. And, depending on the medical treatment required, bills can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars, which, for many, is not only an unexpected debt but an insurmountable one as well.

To add insult to injury, recent research conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) indicates that the credit scores of patients struggling with medical debt may be disproportionately affected if the medical bills eventually enter collection.

The particular finding follows a two-year analysis in which the CFPB examined five million credit reports from September 2011 to September 2013. Specifically, the agency was trying to determine if a person’s credit score correlated to his or her likelihood of paying back debt. Interestingly, they found that the credit scores of those who repay their medical debt after it has gone to collections might be underestimated by up to 22 points. While this may not sound like much, 22 points can make a tremendous difference for someone seeking financing for a new home or car.

Further bolstering these concerns, CFPB Director Richard Cordray was quoted as saying in a recent press release, “Getting sick or injured can put all sorts of burdens on a family, including unexpected medical costs. Those costs should not be compounded by overly penalizing a consumer’s credit score.”

Things to keep in mind when dealing with crushing medical debt

Many individuals may not realize that medical bills are not necessarily set in stone. In fact, in many situations, it is possible to negotiate the amount of medical bills, and in some instances, a reduction may be granted. However, the first step is to carefully review all medical bills for any anomalies, including errors and/or accidental overcharges.

In these circumstances, many of those buried under medical debt find it helpful to consult with an experienced medical collections attorney. Indeed, a knowledgeable attorney can help negotiate on your behalf and assist with reviewing any relevant medical bills. If the attorney discovers double billing, or even unnecessary medical care, it may be possible to seek a reduction. Ultimately, you should consult with an attorney who can help set up an affordable payment plan or, if needed, go to court to protect your interests.