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Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos, Jr. is introducing legislation that would require health care providers to employ more practical measures when first attempting to collect payment for services, prior to reporting the outstanding debt to a private collection agency or a consumer reporting agency.

“Everyone has a responsibility to pay medical bills and debts and no one should escape or evade their responsibilities,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “However, emergencies happen. Sometimes unexpected medical costs are too much to pay all at once and good faith efforts are made. When these efforts are made, debt collectors shouldn’t be harassing people and threatening their credit history.”

This bill would require that a health care provider, including a facility or an individual, observe certain practices during the collection of an outstanding balance in a patient account not reimbursed by a third party payer.

Specifically, in the case of a patient to whom a health care provider submits a bill for an outstanding balance, the provider must:

(1) Provide prior written notification to the patient that the provider intends to refer the patient’s account to a private collection agency at least 30 days prior to making that referral; and

(2) Not communicate information about the outstanding balance in a patient’s account to a consumer reporting agency until at least 45 days have elapsed since the date that the provider referred the patient’s account to a private collection agency.

“This bill provides a lifeline for debtors to make their payments and not have it affect their credit. At the same time, it also employs a measure of fairness to protect the interests of medical providers and debt collectors by allowing them to still pursue collections,” added Ramos.

A health care provider that violates the provisions of the bill would be subject to penalties to be determined by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services or the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs pursuant to statute. The bill would take effect on the 90th day after enactment and apply to health care services provided on or after the effective date.

Ramos intends to introduce the legislation the next time the Assembly is in session.