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Differential Methods of Medical Debt Collection

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Should medical debt be subject to different collection rules than debt owed to other creditors such as credit card issuers?  My answer to this has generally been "no," in part due to the fungibility of obligation. But even if states refrain from imposing differentially restrictive rules, various collection approaches are naturally generated through other means.  Specialty publications on collections have featured a variety of articles on the evolution of medical debt collection (thanks to Jason Kilborn and Nick Sexton for tips on some of the recent ones).  The stories in periodicals such as Collections & Credit Risk have been paying particular attention to the outright purchasing (as opposed to contingency collection) of medical debt from hospitals or other providers.  The stories in the collection industry publications convey the impression that medical providers impose more constraints on the collection techniques of debt buyers than the originators of other debts do because of the nature of the obligation and the localized nature of the business and resulting public relations issues.   Thus, less litigation, prohibitions on resale of the debt, etc.  Of course, some patients immediately use a credit card for the self pay portion of the debt.  If they don't pay, and if such bad credit debt gets sold, it will be sold as general consumer debt, presumably without these particular originator restrictions.  Medical providers still have incentives to encourage patients to use credit cards at the outset; bad medical debt portfolios are selling for only a few pennies on the dollar.  It is possible that some convergence could occur if buyers purchase newer accounts receivable, and then team up with lenders to provide financing options for patients. 

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