44+ million uninsured people in America...
April 8, 2007 8:44 AM Subscribe
Will a $6,000 bill from the ER completely cripple my credit score for the next ten (plus?) years if I don't pay it?
posted by inoculatedcities to Work & Money (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am getting ready to leave a dead-end job to start work as an EMT. The dead-end job, like most dead-end jobs, offered quite bad insurance coverage under an awful HMO, the payments were outrageous, the coverage was minimal, etc. Rather than continue paying for such a terrible plan and expecting to start my new job much sooner than has worked out, I canceled the coverage. Shortly thereafter I developed the meanest staph infection known to man on my calf. I treated it with OTC antibiotics and did a good job soaking and cleaning the infection but ultimately woke up one morning a few weeks ago and found my leg turning slightly gangrenous and was completely unable to walk without crying in pain and then falling. So...I clearly had an emergency. I took a cab to the ER and the doctors appeared aghast at the progression of the infection, told me I'd be admitted for a couple of days, etc. Long story short, after being released, coming back to the ER several more times for follow up in the ensuing two weeks, and paying $400 in prescriptions for everything from anti-nausea medication, top opiate painkillers and several anti-biotics, I had drained my (meager) savings and had no income from being out of work so long. The bills have arrived and total about $6,000, which is about 1/4 of my entire income last year -- and, worse, I live in a very expensive city. Obviously, I'll be making a bit more than that when I start my new job but not that much more. In my past experience, with a few short ER visits totaling about $230 each, I never paid and it never appeared on my credit report. But I've heard mixed things recently: new legislation has been passed that requires hospitals to report to the credit agencies, only debts in excess of $1,000 are reported, nothing gets reported, etc.
Apart from my rage at not starting my job and getting coverage again, at the whole misfortune and irony of the situation, I'm worried that if I don't pay it or pay it within a certain period of time, my credit will be crippled by this debt. In my EMT program we were repeatedly told that the reason most private EMS companies offer such (comparatively) low wages is because people, by law, do not have to pay their ambulance bills and -- as everyone knows -- for the tens of millions of uninsured people in this country, the emergency medics, nurses and physicians are their only choice for treatment. It all seems more than a little criminal. (What else does the government exist for than the protection of its citizens? I know, a naive question...) Any insight into the law and potential consequences of not paying would be appreciated. I have an odd feeling that Michael Moore's new film about the health care industry is going to find a huge audience.