If you incur hospital bills after a car accident, you might be wondering, "Who is responsible for paying for my hospital bills?" The short answer is - You! Just because someone causes you harm doesn't mean they are going to pay for your hospital bills. The hospital, emergency room, doctors, xrays facilities, etc. expect to be paid. You can't simply ignore those bills. I've known some clients who get hospital bills and toss them in the trash thinking, "These aren't my responsibility. I don't need to worry about these bills." The truth is you DO have to worry about these bills. When I tell clients they are responsible for their hospital bills, many protest, "Why should I have to pay these? I'm not the one who caused the accident!"
So then I tell the clients a little story that oftens help explain the situation: Let's say someone vandalizes your home one day by painting graffiti all over it. You catch them in the act and call the police. The police show up and arrest the perpetrators. So far so good. Then you hire Johnny's Painting Company to come and remove the graffiti and repaint your home. Johnny and his crew do a great job. Then Johnny knocks on your door and asks you to pay him for the work. You can't tell him, "Listen, I'm not going to pay your bill. You need to go after the people who vandalized my home." Johnny isn't going to do that. It's not his problem. He provided a service and expects to be paid. Paying him is your responsibility. Then you can theoretically pursue reimbursement from the vandals. So basically, it's the same story with medical care - the health care providers will provide a service to you, but you need to pay them. You can't expect them to go after the responsible party for payment.
There are some medical providers who will provide you service on a "lien" basis. Those providers are not the subject of this posting. When a provider is on a "lien," that simply means you are promising to pay them for their service at the conclusion of your case. You are basically deferring payment to them. This FAQ deals with providers who are NOT on a lien (most hospitals, ER doctors, urgent care centers, PPO doctors, etc.).
Since you have to pay the hospital and related bills, you need to determine what resources you will use to pay. First, if you don't have health insurance, you can ask the providers to treat you as a "cash" patient. Generally, most providers have a "cash" price that is often a fraction of what they would charge to an insurance company. Some also have special programs available to people who need financial assistance. Most will accept payment plans as well.
Second, if you have health insurance, you can simply use that to pay. However, if you have a high deductible, that might be burdensome. Most health care providers who are "in network" will charge you the negotiated rate they have with your health insurance company. That is often far less than "sticker price" on most services. Keep in mind if you recover money from the responsible party, most health insurers have "reimbursement" provisions built into their contracts. That means you need to reimburse your health care insurance company if you recover money from the responsible party. In general, you only need to reimburse them if you recover. You are not obligated to recover money for them.
Third, you might have coverage for health care expenses under your own automobile insurance policy. Many folks have "medical payments" coverage under their own policy and they don't even know it. Many insurance companies aren't eager to tell you about this, but you need to find out if you have it. In many cases, you can have your bills (copays, etc.) paid by your own car insurance company. You've been paying for this benefit so you might as well use it. As with the health insurance companies, your auto insurance company also has a right to reimbursement if you recover compensation from the responsible party. Make sure you don't ignore these reimbursement provisions. In most cases, your auto insurance company will send you a letter reminding you of this obligation if they pay any funds pursuant to any medical payments coverage.
The main thing you need to keep in mind is that you are responsible for paying your health care bills. You can ultimately recover them from the responsible party, but that doesn't absolve you from the responsibility of paying your bills. Therefore, you can't just ignore or throw those bills in the trash when you get them. Talk to an experienced lawyer about how you might handle your accident related medical bills. There are several approaches you might consider, each with its own pros and cons.
If you are involved in a serious car accident and need advice, feel free to contact our office at (661) 414-7100 to see if we can help.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,