An issue that has come up recently about old bills, particularly old medical bills, and at what point you no longer have to pay them.
Anyone with health insurance Ė and that ought to be everyone Ė is likely to have noticed that just about any time you owe some money to a practitioner, thereís likely to be a lag before the bill arrives. Thatís because the medical provider and insurance company have some figuring and reconciling to do.
Have you met your deductible? How much did you pay when you were there? Was the charge properly coded? What is the insurance companyís share? Whatís the insurance company rate? And, ultimately, whatís left that you owe?
Eventually, a bill gets sent. It could be a few weeks, often even a few months, after the service was provided. But, as some readers have experienced, and itís certainly more exception than rule, it can also take a lot longer than that.
So, the question was raised, when are you no longer responsible for the debt? One reader wistfully asked if a year passes, do you still have to pay?
As much as you might have been unprepared for a bill and as annoying as it is to be charged for something that seems a distant memory, as long as the charge is proper youíre on the hook.
Each state has some sort of statute of limitations for collecting on debts and, in Massachusetts, itís six years. That means that you canít get sued over a debt older than that.
But what you should do when so much time has passed is to make sure there hasnít been a billing error. That means checking to see if you had previously paid, checking with the insurance company about what they paid, and asking for any supporting documentation to confirm the bill is accurate.
Once youíre clear itís legitimate, you have to pay. The last thing you want to do is let a bill go unpaid just because you wished it had never come. It will be a lot harder dealing with a bill that has gone to collection and ends up on your credit history.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com