Readers, I could use your expertise with medical bills to help out a fellow reader. Glen writes in with the following question regarding medical bills for his wife showing on his credit report:
I recently was denied credit and when I looked at my credit report I found that some wage garnishments had made it onto my credit report.
OK here is the kicker. These bills were not mine but actually my wife’s medical bills. We went through some really hard times with her addiction and mental health issues. We were close to a divorce so she did not give me permission to see her medical records. Because of HIPPA laws I am not allowed to even discuss a bill of hers even if I dispute it.
What finally happened was credit agencies started sending her letters, then calls. Since it’s not in my name I’m not permitted to open the letter or even if I did see it, which I did not because she kept them from me, I was not permitted to discuss it with them. Since she was dealing with these mental health issues she did nothing about it. Eventually I was served with a judgment saying they were going to garnish my wages. Even though I could just pay the bill outright I was not permitted to even set that up because by law I cannot discuss it without her permission. I can’t even dispute it with the courts because it’s my wife’s medical information.
So in short, by law, the spouse who’s name appears first on the insurance cards is financially responsible for all bills but has no right at all of even know a bill exists in the first place. We get to know a bill exists when they start garnishing wages, but even then you can’t call to dispute it. By then it’s too late anyway.
How can I be reasonably expected to pay a bill I’m not entitled to see, discuss or know of its existence? I want to dispute this but I’m not sure how because by law I’m told they are my responsibility.
Any advice you can provide would be appreciated.
Glen, that’s a tough situation. First, I’m sorry you and your wife had to go through this experience at all. I hope she is doing better. I wasn’t sure from your message whether or not you are still together, or if in fact the divorce was finalized. I’ll answer your question with the assumption that the divorce was finalized and you are now separated.
As far as the medical bills go, it appears from your email that you are more than willing (and able) to pay for the bills. However, privacy concerns are preventing you from finding out important things like account numbers, payee contact information, etc.
You are correct that as the guarantor on the insurance plan you are ultimately financially responsible for the bill. I would start by pulling a current copy of your credit report. Look for any contact information, name of a collection company or attorney, etc. The second place to look would be the court jurisdiction where the judgment was served. A clerk there may be able to provide information for the party bringing the claim (probably the folks you need to settle up with).
Finally, and this may be a stretch, your wife (or ex-wife, whatever the case may be), may be willing to contact the medical provider and submit a HIPAA release form. This would allow you to discuss information regarding her care received by that provider, and the associated outstanding debts.
I did find this related blurb on the web. It was not from a credible source, but it might give you terminology for discussions with the medical provider or collections firm.
…If the husband is the primary on her insurance, he can be presented with a listing of services the insurance company paid for. However, as the Payer is only entitled to “minimum necessary” PHI and is required to pass on only “minimum necessary”, they can’t really say too much about what happened, and they cannot specifically declare a diagnosis.
It might be time to consult legal advice. An attorney may be able to help hunt down the judgment records and determine more information about the agency or agencies you owe. They may also be able to advise you on your rights, responsibilities, etc.
In the interim, you might want to add a consumer statement to your credit file with each of the three major credit bureaus. It may or may not help in your attempt to acquire new credit for the lender to see an explanation for outstanding judgments. It would be most helpful if you could make these lenders whole so it would be reported as a “paid” debt.
What other advice can you give Glen? Would especially love to hear from someone in the medical or collections fields that could give Glen some guidance.