Debt Collection

There’s no doubt about it: The cost of mesothelioma treatment can be very high. Such high costs can leave many patients and their families with the question of how to pay for such therapies. And in a lot of cases, the only option may be going into debt.

Nobody wants to be in debt, but in today’s society it has become almost a necessity for many people. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit institution that focuses on national health issues, nearly half of people who have trouble paying their medical bills carry some form of medical debt. Even families who have medical insurance are finding that their medical-related debt is increasing. As a result, many of those individuals and families are forced to take on additional debt to pay for day-to-day expenses, even as they are trying to pay off medical bills.

Once being saddled with medical debt, it is not so easy to get out from under it. Most families pay what they can, but often it is not enough to stop the calls from debt collectors looking for more money to be paid. Unfortunately, many debt collectors are less than scrupulous when they contact debt-holders. They call at odd times, are verbally abusive, and they use deceptive practices to try to get people to pay more than they can afford.

The good news is that such detestable practices are being noticed by the government, and work is underway to make them stop.

New Debt Rules from the CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – an independent government agency established in 2010 to protect people from bad practices in the financial industry – is one of the agencies that have noticed the problems people with debt are facing. While their focus on debt in general, the work they are doing will definitely help those who have medical debt as well.

As a way to help bring down the overall level of debt that American families find themselves faced with, the CFPB has been working on a set of proposed rules that would revise the ways in which debts could be collected. The original rulemaking notice was published in 2013, but as of yet the final rulemaking has not occurred. In that original notice, the CFPB noted that medical and health-related debts account for 36 percent of the debts that collectors attempt to recover – the largest of any of the types of debt the agency listed.

Given the high amount of medical debt out there, the CFPB wants to completely overhaul the entire debt collection industry, based on various news reports from earlier this year. Some of the changes the CFPB proposed are as follows:

Verifying Debt: Believe it or not, right now debt collectors don’t even have to check whether a debt is valid before trying to collect on it! In many cases, third-party debt collectors buy up databases full of information about old debts. Instead of taking the time (and money) to go through and check whether the debts are valid, they will simply contact people and try to make them pay. This includes cases where the debts may have been settled, discharged as part of a bankruptcy, or even may have passed the statute of limitations, making them too old to be collected. With the new rules proposed by the CFPB, debt collection companies will have to first verify the validity of debts before attempting to collect on them.

Contacting Debtors: Even when a debt is confirmed as valid, debt collectors will still have to follow certain guidelines about when and how they can contact people who owe money. For one thing, under the new rules, collectors will only be able to contact people up to six times per week. Another change that the CFPB is proposing is pausing collection attempts whenever a dispute is made – which would address one of the biggest complaints that many people have, that of collectors continuing to harassing them even after they have disputed the validity of a particular debt.

Correcting Details: Right now, it can be extremely difficult to correct information about a debt owed. In most cases, this is because correcting such information is not to the benefit of the collector, so they resist any attempts to change it. With the new rules proposed by the CFPB, making such changes should become much easier. For example, debt collection notices would have to include a tear-off portion that allows debtors to indicate whether it contains wrong information. Individuals could also dispute debts over the phone, which is something they are unable to do right now.

Stopping “Zombie” Debts: Some debts are so old that they have come to be known as “zombie debts” within the debt collection industry. Legally, collection agencies cannot collect on these debts, and they cannot force individuals to pay – but that does not stop them! Many collection agencies will still hound debtors to pay up, hoping that they can get something out of them, even though the debt has passed the statute of limitations. The new CFPB guidelines will put a stop to attempts to collect on these sorts of zombie debts going forward.

Deceased Debtors: One of the most heinous practices of debt collectors is to harass the family members of loved ones who have passed away while still owing medical debts. This can even be the case debts incurred during the attempt to treat the illness from which the person died (such as mesothelioma). Recognizing that such times can be difficult for family members, the CFPB is proposing a rule that would require debt collectors to wait at least 30 days after the death of a debtor before contacting their spouse, children, or other family members.

How These Rules Could Help Mesothelioma Patients

When being treated for a deadly cancer like mesothelioma, a patient’s focus should be on their therapy and recovery, not on the difficulties of paying medical bills and all of the stuff that goes with it. Certainly, there is some level of administrative work that needs to be done, but getting harassing phone calls and berating letters from debt collectors do not help the situation. In fact, such communications from debt collection agencies can even cause more harm, as they can lead to stress and emotional problems that will impair the treatment being administered.

If the CFPB implements the rules they have proposed, these practices could lead to a lot of relief for mesothelioma patients and their families. The debts may not go away altogether, but at least there will be fewer phone calls, fewer conversations with belligerent representatives, and less overall stress about the costs of the medical bills.

Another way to get debt collectors out of the picture is to understand what sort of financial help may be available for mesothelioma patients. It may be possible to receive a settlement from an asbestos trust fund, or from the company that is liable for the initial asbestos exposure. Other funds may be available through certain other programs or funds. In the end, accessing these financial resources may be the best course of action available if you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma.