Paying medical bills after a car accident can be stressful, especially if you don’t have health insurance. Learn about your options here.
If you were injured in a car accident that was caused by someone else’s careless or reckless driving, one of your first questions may be:
Who will cover my medical bills and expenses?
Sometimes, people find themselves too preoccupied with the pain from their injuries to think of the medical bill that will show up in their mailbox in the weeks following a visit to an emergency room or urgent care center. Many people are unsure if they should be using their own health insurance, or if the at-fault driver’s insurance company will be billed for the treatment.
The short answer is:
You are responsible to pay for any medical treatment you receive.
While this may not seem fair, the state of Georgia is a third-party liability state, not a no-fault state. Under third-party liability, victims of car accidents have the right to pursue the at-fault driver for damages.
How liability impacts medical treatment
Many people assume that the at-fault driver’s insurance company should take care of all of their expenses related to the accident, but liability must first be determined. This means that someone has to determine who the at-fault party is after an auto accident, and therefore which insurance company is liable.
Once liability has been determined and it is clear that the accident was not caused by you, the negligent driver’s insurance company is required to help pay for your property damage repairs, medical expenses, and any other losses, including pain and suffering and lost wages, through that driver’s liability coverage.
However, insurers will typically not reimburse you until you have finished all medical treatments and been discharged by your doctors. Unfortunately, this could take several months or even years before you have completely healed and have reached “maximum medical improvement” (or MMI) — which is the term often used by treating physicians.
In the meantime, most doctors require copays if you are treating through health insurance — or even more stressful, payment upfront if you are without any health insurance. If these medical facilities don’t receive payment, they will not hesitate to send your outstanding medical bills to collections. This will hurt your credit score, even when you weren’t at fault for the accident.
How to pay your medical bills during an auto accident claim
Your private health insurance
If you have private health insurance, the most important thing to do is make sure your medical bills are submitted to them. Using your health insurance to cover your medical expenses will get them paid immediately. You won’t get sent to collections while you are seeing doctors and waiting for your settlement, which allows you to obtain the proper care required for the injuries sustained, without depleting your finances until the case settles.
Another major benefit of going through private health insurance is that health insurance companies typically receive huge discounts (also known as “contractual write-offs”), which is highly beneficial if they attempt to subrogate against your personal injury settlement.
In the eyes of your health insurance company, money that they have paid for your health treatment should be returned to them out of any third-party settlement that you receive. Even if this happens, an experienced personal injury attorney can often negotiate the amount to be paid back to the health insurance company, which would allow you to end up keeping more of your settlement money.
Medicaid or Medicare
Unfortunately, many people are unable to afford private health insurance. If you get into an accident and have no health insurance, the first thing you can do is contact the state’s Medicaid office and find out if you qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. Medicaid and Medicare are both government-funded programs that provide health insurance programs for individuals who meet certain criteria in order to qualify for supplemented medical benefits. If you do qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, either can be used to pay your medical bills going forward.
But what if your health insurance coverage doesn’t cover all of your medical bills? For example, what about co-pays or remaining balances after insurance has paid their portion? Or, what if you don’t have health insurance in the first place?
Your auto insurance company (MedPay)
Depending on the type of auto insurance policy you have, you may be able to pay for some — or even all — of your medical bills through MedPay. The term “MedPay” refers to medical payment coverage. This is optional insurance coverage that is offered as a part of your auto insurance policy. While car insurance protects your vehicle, think of MedPay as additional coverage to your auto insurance policy that protects the people inside of the vehicle.
MedPay can be used to cover the medical costs resulting from an auto accident, regardless of who was at fault. The exact amount that Med Pay will cover will depend entirely on your policy. If you are unsure whether you have MedPay or not, the quickest way to find out is to call your auto insurance provider and ask them to explain your policy. If you have MedPay, you can also ask how much your policy will cover in medical costs.
What happens if you don’t have private health insurance, don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, and didn’t have Med Pay coverage on your auto insurance policy at the time of the accident? Does that mean you can’t receive the medical treatment that you need?
Luckily, the answer is no.
Medical lien or payment plan
Some healthcare providers realize that many of their patients have no health insurance and are occasionally willing to work out a payment plan to allow you to make partial payments on a medical bill, or figure out another type of payment arrangement with you. Other healthcare providers may agree to treat the patient in return for the patient’s promise to pay the bills at the end of the case.
In the latter scenario, the provider will have the patient sign a personal injury lien, which will be sent to the patient’s lawyer. This lien is a binding contract between the patient, the provider and the patient’s attorney. It requires the lawyer to pay the provider from the final settlement or verdict of their personal injury case. The medical provider will not send you aggressively worded bills demanding payment. They will not send your outstanding balance to collections. They simply continue to provide you medical care and wait for payment at the conclusion of your personal injury case as they know that their bill will be paid in full because your attorney provided a lien on their behalf.
Don’t ignore medical treatment expenses
Keep in mind that any bill from a treating physician that you receive in relation to treatment for your auto accident injuries is ultimately the responsibility of the victim (not the at-fault driver). Any remaining balances from hospitals and doctor’s offices are to be paid in whatever manner you are able to do so. If you are unable to pay off the balances immediately you can let it go to collections until your case settles, but that could damage your credit score.
A more viable option would be to work out a payment arrangement. Contact the company that has sent the bill and let them know your situation. Even something as small as $5 or $10 a month may help to keep it from affecting your overall credit score.
Sometimes, you are left with no choice but to pay for out-of-pocket expenses yourself in order to make sure that your medical debt is not sent to collections. If this happens, it’s very important that you keep track of any and all payments that you are making so that you can submit everything to the at-fault driver’s insurance company at the end of the case to get reimbursed for all of those expenses.
Bills piling up? Get help and advice from a knowledgeable Georgia injury lawyer
At the end of the day, medical facilities are businesses that must make money in order to continue their operations. If medical bills are piling up, it can be overwhelming. The last thing you need to have thrown at you is a stack of bills on top of the pain and suffering you are dealing with from an auto wreck that wasn’t even your fault.
Unfortunately, car accident victims are responsible for any medical treatment they receive. Doctors expect you to pay your medical bills, not the at-fault driver or their insurance company. You should never risk bankruptcy because you were injured due to no fault of your own in an auto accident.
If you or a loved one finds yourself a victim in an auto accident and are struggling with paying your medical bills, we invite you to contact our Atlanta auto accident attorneys as soon as possible to get help. At Scholle Law, we make sure that you are getting the medical treatment you need, and we will fight to make sure you receive the maximum compensation that you deserve resulting from your accident.