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AUSTIN – Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk, according to the consumer advocacy group TexPIRG. Since 2013 more than 1600 Texans have submitted medical debt complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with Commonwealth Financial Systems being the most complained about company.
The TexPIRG report Medical Debt Malpractice: Consumer Complaints About Medical Debt Collectors, and How the CFPB Can Help, the ninth in a series, reviews complaints to the CFPB. Medical debt is a major “pain in the neck” for consumers, as it accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. In fact, most of those medical debt items are often inaccurate or about the wrong consumer entirely. The report finds many consumers contacted about medical debt should not have been contacted in the first place, and that many contacts involve aggressive or inappropriate tactics. The report also demonstrates the need to defend the CFPB from partisan and special interest attacks.
“The CFPB is working tirelessly to stop unfair medical debt collection practices that harm innocent consumers, so why are so many members of the Texas Congressional delegation spearheading efforts to kill or weaken the CFPB?” asked Stephanie Carter of TexPIRG. “1660 Texans have relied on the CFPB to advocate on their behalf to solve complicated medical debt problems, yet Senator Cruz and Representatives Hensarling, Williams, and Ratcliff have filed bills or resolutions to dismantle or de-fund the agency.
Key findings of the report “Medical Debt Malpractice,” by the TexPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group include:
- Nearly two-thirds (63%) of 17,701 complaints about medical debt collection reviewed in the report assert either that the debt was never owed in the first place, it was already paid or discharged in bankruptcy, or it was not verified as the consumer’s debt.
- Many complaints document inappropriate and aggressive tactics including frequent, repeated calls, threats of legal action, attempting to collect the wrong amount, or the use of abusive language.
- Of the 1660 complaints filed in Texas, Commonwealth Financial Systems received the most complaints at 115.
- Healthcare payments are complex, often involving billing departments, insurance companies and extensive paperwork. This complexity seems to be behind some consumer debt being wrongfully sent to collection agencies. One consumer from Texas reported: “The doctor’s billing department has informed me that they erred in submitting the payment to collection” and requested the collection agency to remove the charge from the consumer’s credit report – one month later, the item was still reported.
"Medical debt collection is a system run amok," said Gideon Weissman of the Frontier Group, the report co-author. "Our analysis of CFPB complaint data suggests that many of the consumers facing harassment and damaged credit due to medical debt never owed any money in the first place.”
Despite the important work done by the CFPB to protect consumers on issues such as medical debt, Senator Cruz and Representative Ratcliffe have filed a bill to eliminate it. Representative Hensarling, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, and Representative Williams, a prominent committee member, have vowed to drastically weaken the bureau.
“Consumers deserve protection from unfair, aggressive, and illegal medical debt collection. Fortunately, they have a powerful resource in the CFPB, which has already taken multiple actions against collection companies that break the law while collecting medical debt,” Carter concluded. “The Texas Congressional delegation should stop catering to the powerful special interests of Wall Street and cease their attacks on an agency that provides protection and restitution for consumers.”
TexPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web at www.TexPIRG.org. Education Fund is its research and education affiliate. On the web at www.TexPIRGedfund.org.
Frontier Group provides information and ideas to help citizens build a cleaner, healthier, fairer and more democratic America. We address issues that will define our nation’s course in the 21st century – from fracking to solar energy, global warming to transportation, clean water to clean elections. Our experts and writers deliver timely research and analysis that is accessible to the public, applying insights gleaned from a variety of disciplines to arrive at new ideas for solving pressing problems. For more information about Frontier Group, please visit www.frontiergroup.org.
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