Shortly after you are back from US, a medical bill for an emergency treatment from Anahiem, California arrives at your home in Canada and its $100,000 USD for 5 days. What would you do next?
If you had bought the travel insurance before leaving, that likely would not happen. But in case you did not buy the travel insurance, you would have to deal with it. This is not a something that you would not pay attention to. The last thing you want to happen that the bill is handed over to an international collection agency which can make your life very uncomfortable.
Increasingly, these days U.S. hospitals are handing over these bills for visitors to US to many of the international companies who specialize in cross-border collections so they—the hospitals—don’t have to deal with the complexities of foreign collections, or travel to your city of residence to take you to the court.
But you are not defenseless.
Hospitals don’t like to sue patients; it’s just because of their PR. It doesn’t mean they can’t, if they have to they will—and don’t think that just because you live in a country other than the US you can’t be sued or have your credit impaired.
Check out your provincial protections
In Canada there are considerable protections against unfair collections methods that depends on the province you live in. The protection for consumers in Canada is better than what they follow in America.
You may go to this link to know more about the applicable rules and regulations for your province.
The good news is that there are laws passed in many provinces which need hospitals to offer uninsured patients the same discounts off charged fees they offer to insurers, and they also need them to disclose to the patients about the range of free, charitable, or reduced-payment options which they offer to low-income or uninsured patients. So, you may ask for these kinds of details.
Negotiate the bills!
Yes, you should negotiate. When you negotiate you get a chance to make it a manageable monthly payment for a reasonable period. Most hospitals in the US (about 80 percent) are non-profit and regularly make high amounts of charity to the needy in their communities. Also, there is no government bailout at the end of the budget year, unlike hospitals in Canada.
It’s a fact that basically all public or privately-owned hospitals must treat for emergency medical services whether the patient is insured or not. That’s the part of the law. But those are paid services.
Hospitals also have the right to collect a deposit (in cash, credit card, or promissory note) for any services they provide (something that is usually waived if you can provide proof of supplementary private insurance). Caution: your provincial health insurance card will not do. This is one of reasons why the travelers are asked to carry their full policy papers with them—so that hospital staff could verify the exact coverage they have from insurers.
So while dealing with the hospital be reasonable you can start by a position which is far lower than the actual bill. And don’t afraid to do it. There is always a chance to raise the bid and pay more but you can never lower the bids once its increased. Sometimes I have seen where a patient, or his or her counsel, have been timid about negotiating and declared victory when they have achieved only a 10 percent decrease in bill. Well, its not the time to be timid.
And make sure when you arrive at convenient repayment plan get the agreement signed by senior officials in the hospital. After all its best to settle with the hospital rather than dealing with collection agencies.