Divorce Might Separate Doctors from Timely Payment

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February 8, 2017 by Harry Stoll

Not every couple is happy this Valentine’s Day.  In fact, many couples are unhappy enough to be separated or divorced.  Half of all marriages end in divorce, at least that’s what I seem to hear at all the weddings I attend. That amounts to a lot of people.

Many of the medical providers we partner with run into challenges collecting bills from some of these divorced or separated couples.  There are several reasons for this. For one thing, divorce is a stressful time for the patient and it requires the focus of their attention.  This can distract them from what may have been a routine thing in the past – paying the doctor bill.  Divorce may also hamper cash flow causing medical bills to be neglected. And sometimes people going through a divorce are given incorrect advice which they use as an excuse as to why they aren’t paying the bill. Others erroneously believe they are only responsible for 50 percent of their kid’s bill since the child has two parents.

Oftentimes, the doctor’s billing office will find it difficult to maneuver through a divorce situation where the patients are: moving their residence, changing telephone numbers, changing names, and employment while other debts such as legal fees are piling up.  When the doctor’s billing office does finally speak with the debtor, he or she may claim their ex-spouse is responsible for all the medical bills or they may claim they never signed off on Jr.’s emergency room visit so they cannot be held responsible for that doctor bill.  The patient or parent may even refuse to pay a medical bill because the divorce court issued a decree ordering the ex to pay all medical bills.  But what if that  “responsible party” cannot be found or is unable to pay?  How do you to collect the unpaid invoice?

If your patient resides in a community property state, like here in Wisconsin, and, for whatever reason, you are unable to contact them or if they are unwilling to work with you, you have every right to seek 100% remuneration from either or both of the responsible parent(s) in the case of a minor child’s medical bill, or the ex-spouse of the patient, when the medical bill was incurred while still married. In the case of a divorced couple and medical bills for their children, both parents are each 100% liable for the entire balance owed regardless of the divorce decree.

“Parents are on the hook,” when it comes to their kids’ medical bills, says collection attorney Lloyd D. Dix.  All parents, divorced, married, or single, are required to take care of their children’s essential care — including medical care — and ultimately both parents can be held responsible for these costs.” he says.  “That may hold true even if the parent didn’t sign anything.” says Chi Chi Wu, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.  She explains that there are legal doctrines that come into play such as Quantum Meruit, that says that the provider is entitled to get paid for his or her services; or state “doctrines of necessaries” that holds both parents responsible for essential bills such as medical care.

So medical providers may try to collect medical bills for minors from both parents, no matter what their marital status may be.  Additionally, the provider, if they choose, may ignore any divorce decree dictating who is to pay a minor child’s medical bills. In community property states, like Wisconsin, a provider may also attempt to collect medical bills for the ex-wife  from the ex husband or vice versa when the debts were incurred prior to the divorce.

Collecting from divorced patients can sometimes be both physically and emotionally complex.  Many medical practices choose to distance themselves from these difficult to navigate situations by partnering with  a reputable collection agency.  Sometimes a little distance can be good.

Founded in 1950, United Credit Service, Inc. is a full service, licensed revenue cycle management and debt collection agency in Wisconsin providing effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Visit our website at http://www.unitedcreditservice.com, call 877-723-2902, or check out our YouTube video.

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