Student Series: Taking on Hospital Debt

As the week gets started, here’s another taste of what students working on one of the A2J Lab’s signature study, the Financial Distress Research Project, are doing. The students who have been blogging thus far have talked about their experiences in Small Claims Court as well as tackling self-help materials for complicated bankruptcy forms. And those aren’t the only two focus areas of the project; students are also entering more uncharted territory, trying their hand at creating self-help materials for hospital debt.

Today, we’ll hear from 2L Rachel Finkel, who works on the Hospital Debt team of the Financial Distress Research Project.

From Rachel:

hosptialbillsThis semester, I am working on the Hospital Debt Packet, which aims to help patients of Connecticut hospitals understand their rights to relief from hospital debt. Our initial obstacle was that there does not seem to be any comprehensive state-wide hospital debt relief program. Rather, patients must apply for financial assistance at the individual hospitals where they receive treatment. Our group decided to write instructions for the financial assistance programs at the three largest Connecticut hospitals: Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

However, there are a few sections of our hospital debt packet that can aid all Connecticut patients with hospital debt. First, we provide instructions on how to apply for HUSKY, the state medical assistance program, which is a prerequisite for financial assistance in Connecticut hospitals. We also provide instructions on what types of documents are needed for the financial assistance applications at most hospitals (though the documents required differ by hospital), and how to negotiate payments with the hospital or collection agency.

I am now working on the part of our packet where we will explain what to do if the hospital or collection agency sells the patient’s debt to a debt buyer. In Connecticut, hospital debt collectors must send debtors a letter explaining how much they owe, who owns the debt, where to write to dispute the bill, and information on how to apply for free care, which is provided to some patients at most Connecticut hospitals. As a template for this section, I’ll be using the credit card debt packet, which already contains instructions on the statute of limitations for debt collection (six years for both credit card debt and hospital debt) and how to write “Only Contact in Writing” and “Cease and Desist” letters.

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