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A woman looking at a late medical bill

How Late Can Medical Bills be Sent?

About two-thirds of Americans say that they are worried about being able to afford surprise medical bills. And there is a good reason for that fearful surprise in your mailbox—you might end up receiving the bill years after the service has been provided, and the chances are high that you might not even know about it.

Thankfully, there are ways to dispute the bill or cover it without having to deal with a late fee and a drop in your credit score. Keep on reading to find out how to take care of such an unpleasant situation without having to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars at once.

Key Takeaways

  • Late medical bills, as long as they are legitimate, most likely have to be paid.
  • Providers have up to 6 years to send you a medical bill, depending on the state where you live. 
  • Medical bills can be negotiated or even reduced with a payment plan, if you are caught off guard. 

How Late Can Medical Bills be Sent?

Most medical providers and hospitals can take anywhere from 6 months to 6 years to bill you. And the worst thing is that they’re legally allowed to do that.

The regulations can vary from state to state. For example, if you live in Florida, you might receive a surprise bill in 5 years! Check with your state, to find out how late can medical bills be sent, but know that the limits are normally between 11 months and 6 years.

Why can it take so long to get your medical bill?

There are a few reasons for delayed medical billing:

  • The hospital has to first submit a claim to your insurance company after your visit. As the company’s payment terms can be complicated, it might take quite some time to process the claim.
  • Your visit to the hospital might have involved several departments. In some cases, the departments will bill individually, and that’s when you might receive a bill from the actual hospital immediately, a bill from the anesthesiologist a few months later, and a bill from the radiology department only in a few years.
  • If you fail to provide accurate information about your health insurance, it might take ages for the billing staff to determine what coverage exists and who should be billed primarily.

Most health providers do their best to ensure that the patient will get the bill as soon as possible. But if, despite these efforts, you have received the bill "late" that does not mean that you’re automatically relieved from having to pay for the services provided. 

What To Do If You Get a Late Medical Bill

Unfortunately, in most cases, if you get a late medical bill, even one year later or more you have to pay it. That would have to be done either directly, or through your insurance.

If you feel like you are simply not able to take care of the bill immediately, contact your medical provider. Most of them would agree to offer you a repayment plan. You might also find out that you qualify for financial assistance or that the bill was sent to you by mistake. In any case, staying in touch with the medical provider would be a great idea. 

How Long Do You Have To Take Care of Medical Bills?

How to take care of late medical bills

The majority of medical bills have a due date of 30 days starting from the date billed. However, do bear in mind that every provider is different, so you might want to call your hospital to find out the allowable payment timeframe.

No matter how many days or months you might have, the timeframe does not indicate the date when you would have to fully pay off your medical bill. If you can’t afford a lump-sum payment, you have the right to arrange a repayment plan during this time.

What Happens If the Medical Bill Becomes Overdue?

When the bill becomes overdue, the medical provider can issue a late fee. If that does not encourage you to pay, you would typically be given a last warning in written form.

After that, the healthcare provider might assign the debt to a collection agency. Once this happens, your credit score may be negatively affected.

In the worst-case scenario, you can get sued for unpaid bills, and if you were to lose, the debt collector would then garnish your wages as payment or levy your bank account.

What Is a Typical Late Fee for a Doctor’s Bill?

The exact amount of late fees and interest will fully depend on your healthcare provider. If you manage to arrange a repayment plan or if you qualify for financial assistance, the provider will not charge you a fee.

But, in some cases, you might have up to 1.5% of the total bill added.

What Is the Exact Process for Paying Late Medical Bills?

  1. First of all, make sure that the bill was not sent to you by mistake. Patients often get billed for the same service twice or for services that they have never received. Also, don’t forget to double-check your name, address, and date of birth; you might have received another person's bill.
  2. If the bill actually belongs to you, then your next step would be to find out why your insurer denied coverage of the procedure. Claims are often denied simply because the patient’s middle initial or the date of birth was wrong, so make sure that it’s not your case.
  3. Sometimes, insurance companies will not cover the cost of the service because they do not find it ‘medically necessary’. If that’s what happened to you, consider filing an appeal and arguing your case (ideally, you would want to have a medical provider document why what you have been billed for was actually medically necessary).
  4. If, after all your attempts, the insurer still denies coverage, start negotiating the bill amount with the medical provider. Think of the total amount as a starting point for your negotiations; you will be surprised to find out how flexible some providers can be when it comes to reducing rates.
  5. You can ask the hospital if they would accept a lower amount if you paid a lump sum. For example, if you owe $3,000, you can say, ‘I will give you $1,500 right now in case we can consider this paid in full and settled’.
  6. If you can’t afford to pay a lump sum, then come up with a repayment plan that would work for you. Large medical providers would usually take what you could pay as long as you were willing to make the payments regularly. If you can cover only $30 per month and you owe thousands of dollars, some medical providers would actually agree to take that.
  7. Finally, don’t forget to ask if you’re eligible for a discount (all non-profit hospitals in the country have to offer financial assistance programs to those who cannot afford to pay).

If you do receive the not-so-great surprise of a late medical bill 2 years later, an installment loan can help in a pinch. Simple Fast Loans has installment loans ranging from $200 up to $3,000, which should be able to help you cover what the doctor sent you. 

How Do I Get a Late Medical Bill Cleared from My Credit Report?

According to new regulations, unpaid medical debt will be reported on your credit report only after it has been in collections for one year. Furthermore, the three main consumer bureaus will no longer include medical debt in collections under $500 on the reports.

If you have already paid your debt that was in collections, you won’t see it included in your report.

If you have discovered that your medical collection debt has been included on the consumer credit reports, but you have already paid it off, contact the credit bureaus directly and ask them to remove it.

Consumer Protections Under Federal Law

The No Surprises Act (NSA) is a new act that establishes federal protections against certain unexpected medical bills. It protects mainly patients covered under individual and group health plans, in case they receive most medical services from out-of-network providers (those who do not participate in the insurer's provider network) at in-network medical facilities.

Remember that:

  • Private health plans must take care of unexpected bills for emergency services at in-network rates.
  • Emergency services healthcare providers who have not signed a contract agreeing to accept the insurer's prices aren’t allowed to balance bill their patients beyond the applicable in-network cost-sharing amount for surprise medical bills.
  • Out-of-network providers are not allowed to send patients bills for excess charges (an amount that is larger than the cost-sharing amount of network providers for the same services).

How To Resolve Payment Amounts for Medical Bills

You can take advantage of an independent dispute resolution process for any surprise received medical bill 3 years later following a 30-day period. During this time, health plans should be able to negotiate the payment amount with the service provider.

Once each party has submitted its final offer, the independent dispute resolution entity will determine which one is the most reasonable. The party that loses would have to take care of all the costs associated with the arbitration process. 

Related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For readers who checked out information on received late medical bills, here is an additional topic to know a little about:

What Should You Do If You Haven't Receive a Medical Bill?

If you haven't received a medical bill, it's essential to take proactive steps to ensure timely payment and avoid any potential issues.

  1. Start by reaching out directly to the healthcare provider responsible for billing.
  2. Confirm that they have your correct contact information and inquire about the status of your bill.
  3. Additionally, consider checking with your health insurance provider to verify that they have processed the claim. Delays in billing may sometimes stem from issues with insurance information, and your insurance company can provide insights into the billing process.

Maintain regular monitoring of communications from both healthcare providers and insurance companies. Bills may be sent electronically or through traditional mail, and missing notifications could result in delayed payments. Staying vigilant and addressing any billing concerns promptly will help you stay on top of your medical expenses and prevent potential negative consequences, such as late fees or adverse effects on your credit score.

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