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Focus on medical debt info collection, reporting

As this blog and numerous other sources have noted, student debt and medical debt are two causes of particularly acute financial stress for millions of Americans. There are scores of thousands of examples of graduated students who labor under onerous debt levels that greatly compromise their options and future potential. The same is true of many Floridians and other people across the country who are saddled with exorbitant medical fees.

Congress is looking hard at both these sources of debt, with regulators knowing well that an environment marked by millions of unduly constrained consumers does not bode well for the economy and its future improvement.

Medical debt has been an especially strong focus lately on Capitol Hill, particularly the process for collecting information about payment obligations, the manner in which it is passed along and the way in which debt collectors are subsequently using debt-related data and communicating unpaid balances to credit unions.

That latter concern is especially galling to a burgeoning number of Americans with medical bills to pay. The process of information collecting and reporting is uneven and uncertain at best, and consumers note that they often feel blindsided by adverse information that suddenly appears on their credit reports. It goes without saying, of course, that a diminished credit score can have broad and serious implications, including tougher challenges with refinancing and obtaining credit at a reasonable rate.

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), a nonprofit organization for health care executives, notes the intense congressional concerns surrounding medical debt and is enacting new standards regarding best practices in the area, hoping that its proactivity assuages congressional concerns and forestalls Congress stepping in to act.

A central focus of recommended changes is greater consumer understanding of the debt process and access to debt-related data that is supplied to collection agencies, as well as an increased emphasis on “making multiple attempts to reconcile information” so that those agencies proceed with accurate data. An additional concern stresses clear communication from collectors and a prompt removal of adverse credit information after a consumer pays off a disputed balance.

Source: ModernHealthcare.com, "HFMA looks at solutions to patients' medical-debt burdens," Gregg Biesch, June 19, 2013