When it comes to unpaid medical bills, part of the problem is that even once the bill is paid, the debt can stay on a consumer's credit report for up to seven years. This is particularly troubling, especially for the person who had an unpaid bill, but at no fault of their own.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers complaining about a debt collector coming after them, for a medical bill that does not belong to them, is rather common. In some cases, it also isn't until a consumer tries to obtain a loan that he or she even learns about the debt.
One man recently shared his experience about being billed for something he had already paid. The man had gone in for a routine doctor's visit. He paid his $43 co-pay and thought everything was taken care of. However, more than a year and a half later he received a bill claiming he still owed the $43 co-payment. He disputed this bill, which ended up going to a debt collector.
Out of fear the whole ordeal would end up hurting his credit, he paid the $43 again. However, even though he had now paid the same bill twice, it was back on his credit report. He didn't even know about it until he was denied a credit card.
Now, the unpaid medical bill will stay on the man's credit report until 2014.
For cases such as this one -- or even in cases where a person legitimately had an unpaid bill but has since paid it off -- a bill has been introduced that is designed to reduce the burden put on consumers who have had medical debt. This bill would make it so unpaid medical bills are taken off of a person's credit report.
This is a reintroduced bill as it had won approval in the house, but then died before the Senate could act on it.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Dispatch investigation | Incurable financial wounds plague many," Mike Wagner and Jill Riepenhoff, Oct. 9, 2012