Missouri Medical Debt Collection Laws: A Comprehensive Guide
In the United States, healthcare represents a significant expense for most individuals and families. Even with health insurance, medical bills can quickly pile up, leading to overwhelming debt. For this reason, it is essential to understand the laws surrounding medical debt collection in Missouri.
Missouri Medical Debt Collection Laws: An Overview
The state of Missouri has enacted laws that govern how medical debt collectors operate. The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) is one such law that regulates the practices of debt collectors. The MMPA requires that all consumer debt collection agencies be licensed by the Missouri Division of Finance.
Additionally, medical debt collection in Missouri is regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is a federal law that sets guidelines for the collection of debts. The FDCPA applies to all companies that collect debts, including medical debt collectors.
Medical debt collectors in Missouri must also comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA protects patients’ medical information and limits the release of information to debt collectors. The law allows healthcare providers only to release enough information to support debt collection activities.
Missouri Medical Debt Collection Laws and Practices
Under Missouri law, medical providers have the right to turn unpaid bills over to third-party debt collectors for collection. However, the collectors are forbidden from the following practices:
1. Contacting patients before sending them a written notice regarding the debt
2. Using abusive or profane language
3. Threatening violence or making threats that they cannot legally carry out
4. Harassing or embarrassing a patient publicly
5. Calling outside of reasonable hours
6. Failing to accurately report the debt to a credit bureau
7. Attempting to collect a debt from individuals who do not owe the money
Medical debt collectors are authorized to engage in the following practices under Missouri law:
1. Sending written notices to patients
2. Indicating that the communication is from a debt collector
3. Stating the full amount of the debt owed
4. Providing the name and address of the medical service provider
5. Including statements that confirm the patient’s right to request verification of the debt or dispute the debt
6. Offering various payment options
7. Providing information on the contact person for inquiries, disputes, or verification of debt
Missouri Medical Debt Collection Laws and Statute of Limitations
In Missouri, medical debt falls under the category of open accounts. Missouri’s statute of limitations for open accounts is five years. This means that if a patient has not made a payment on a medical debt for the past five years, the debt collector cannot legally sue the patient for the debt.
It is important to note that making even a small payment on an open account debt could restart the clock on the statute of limitations. The reason for this is that making such payments could be viewed as indicating the patient’s willingness to repay the debt, extending the period of time that the collector has to pursue the debt.
FAQs About Missouri Medical Debt Collection Laws
1. Can medical debt collectors in Missouri garnish wages?
Yes, medical debt collectors in Missouri can legally garnish wages to recover unpaid debts. However, they must first file a lawsuit against the patient and obtain a judgment. Once a court has granted the judgment, the debt collector can start wage garnishment proceedings.
2. How long can a medical bill be reported on a credit report in Missouri?
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), medical bills can stay on a credit report for up to seven years. However, debt collectors can update the report if the consumer decides to enter into a payment plan or pay off the debt.
3. Can medical debt collectors in Missouri charge interest on a medical debt?
Medical debt collectors in Missouri cannot charge interest on medical debt, but they can charge a reasonable fee for collection efforts. The fees must be part of the agreement that the patient signs when they receive medical services.
4. Is it possible to negotiate a lower payoff amount when dealing with medical debt collectors in Missouri?
Yes, it is possible to negotiate a lower payoff amount with medical debt collectors in Missouri. However, it is essential to have a written agreement before making any payments. Additionally, patients who seek to negotiate payoff amounts should consider contacting a consumer protection attorney. The attorney can advise them on their rights and negotiate on their behalf with the collectors.
Medical debt collection in Missouri is governed by several laws that protect consumers’ rights. Patients who are struggling to pay their medical bills should get in touch with the service providers and try to work out a payment plan. Additionally, for those in dire financial straits, it is necessary to contact a consumer protection attorney to understand their legal options. By understanding their legal rights, patients can avoid falling into the debt trap and protecting their financial future.
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Missouri has enacted laws governing the practices of debt collectors that apply specifically to medical debt collection. The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act requires consumer debt collection agencies to be licensed by the Missouri Division of Finance. Regulation of Missouri medical debt collection is also covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act further protecting patients’ medical information and limiting the release of information to debt collectors. Debt collectors are authorized to send written notices to patients, state the full amount and provide patients with payment options. However, they are forbidden to threaten or harass patients.