This happens all too frequently: Someone with good credit suddenly incurs a large number of medical bills. Sometimes it’s too much money for the person to pay off in time, sometimes one bill will get overlooked and the debt is sent to collections. That person’s credit will now carry that stain for up to seven years.
This is exactly what happened recently to Consumerist reader Jack.
Last August, a collections agency contacted him about a $72 bill related to a doctor’s office visit.
“I’d never gotten any phone calls or bills from the doctor’s office,” he tells Consumerist. “Apparently I owed this money from a visit I made in the Spring of 2011. I hadn’t moved or changed phone numbers in this time frame so I don’t know why I wouldn’t have just gotten a bill or a call from them. Either way, I paid the bill right there and went on about my day and didn’t think about it again.”
What he didn’t know at the time was that this $72 bill would result in a sizable ding to his credit score, and that the debt — even though it was paid in full and for a relatively small amount — would likely remain on his credit report for the better part of a decade.
Jack just discovered this unpleasant fact for himself, when he pulled his credit report in advance of getting an auto loan. Unfortunately, there’s not much Jack can do right now.
We recalled that lawmakers in D.C. had previously introduced legislation that would remove paid medical debts of less than $2,500 from consumers’ credit reports 45 days after the debt is paid.
Both the original 2011 bill and a 2012 attempt by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon never got very far, in spite of support from high-ranking Senators like Dick Durbin, Jerrod Brown, Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, Richard Blumenthal, and Tom Harkin.
But that hasn’t deterred Merkley, who, along with the same group of co-sponsored re-introduced his bill — the Medical Debt Responsibility Act of 2013 — at the end of January.
“This is an issue that affects 75 million Americans, and there is no reason why Congress should not be able to work together to make credit scores more accurate and fair,” a rep for Senator Merkley tells Consumerist. “We encourage consumers who have suffered from unfair medical debt reporting to contact their home state representatives and urge them to pass legislation this session.”
We’d like to let lawmakers and the public know how widespread a problem this is.
If you’ve had your credit score dinged — or your credit report tainted — by medical debt, we’d love to hear from you. Send us your story at email@example.com with MEDICAL DEBT in the subject line. We will not publish or share any identifying details about any reader chooses who write in.