If you visited a for-profit hospital, bill collection timelines may vary a bit more, but you may still be protected by your state’s laws.
Some states have blanket laws against hospital bill collections before a certain time period; In California, for example, it’s 180 days from the hospital bill’s statement date, and in Washington it’s 120 days. One way to check if you’re protected under state law is to visit the Medical Debt Policy Scorecard:
Use the “Individual State Data” tool to enter your state and download their policy, then;
Search for “collections” in the spreadsheet to find the link to the law.
If your state doesn’t have any protections listed, call your hospital’s billing department and ask about their collections policy.
Your unpaid hospital bill cannot affect your credit report for 13 months from your first bill, based on a change the three major credit bureaus enacted on July 1, 2022. This applies to any medical bills that were already paid or in collections at the time of the change. Plus, starting in January 2023, any unpaid medical debt under $500 won’t affect your credit at all.
Now that you know your rights, you can breathe a little easier knowing you have time to negotiate your hospital bill before it affects your credit.
What if My Hospital Bill Has Already Gone to Collections?
If your hospital bill has gone to collections, your hospital is unlikely to negotiate, because it has already sold your bill to a collections agency.
The good news is that even if your debt has gone to collections, you still have time to pay it before it shows up on your credit report. As long as you pay off your medical collection debt — or as least bring it under $500 — within 365 days of the original delinquency date, it won't appear on your credit reports or impact your credit scores, according to credit bureau Experian. The original delinquency date is defined as when your account was first reported as being past due.
Goodbill isn't currently able to negotiate hospital bills that are already in collections, but Experian has published this guide on how to negotiate a hospital bill directly with a collections agency if you still want to lower your bill. You'll want to weigh your options carefully, though, as settling with the collections agency for a reduced balance could still affect your credit score.