Woman Billed and Sent to Collections for a Surgery She Never Had
WLTX, a CBS news affiliate out of Columbia, South Carolina, recently reported on the frightening story of Grace Elliott, who was billed - and subsequently sent to collections for not paying for - a surgery that she never received.
As WLTX reports, the case looks like a simple one of mistaken identity. Ms. Elliott had a very similar name to a previous patient of the medical center in question, and a clerical error led to a bill being generated on her behalf. Ms. Elliott indicates that she initially thought the bill was a scam, but after trying to ignore it, continuing to receive bills, and worrying about potential damage to her credit score, she engaged with the debt collection agency and hospital to try to rectify the error. Unfortunately for her, that process ended up taking months, and WLTX reports that, in the process of trying to figure out the issue, the debt collector even sent Ms. Elliott the other similarly-named patient's medical file! It was only after Ms. Elliott asked a journalist to investigate the issue that the medical center and debt collection acknowledged the mistake and finally corrected the issue.
There are several important lessons from this story. First, don't ignore bills from debt collection agencies. If there is an error, contest it. Ask for the legally required facts around the alleged debt and determine what to do next. Second, consider hiring an attorney to represent you against the debt collection agency. Attorneys can expedite resolutions to errors such as the one in this case, and involving an attorney can significantly change the tone and tenor of communications from a debt collector. Third, be aware that you do have recourse against companies that misreport information regarding your credit, and in this case, the patient whose medical file was erroneously sent to a complete stranger might have additional health information and privacy act claims, both of which are additional good reasons to involve an attorney.