When faced with medical bills after a car accident, many people prefer to have a medical lien placed on their bills. When a lien is placed on a bill, this means that the bill does not have to be paid until a case is settled or until the end of a court case. This scenario applies when someone’s injuries are the fault of another person. A claim will have been made against that person. The hospital or doctor has agreed to wait until the case has been resolved before actively pursuing the bill.
Medical Liens come from the Healthcare Services Lien Act
The placing of a medical lien is actually a legal procedure. It is a simple process, but has the force of law behind it. In exchange for their willingness to wait, the medical provider prepares a document which follows the requirements of the Illinois Medical Lien Act. The law can be found at 770 ILCS 23/1. Certain steps are taken to make sure that this document is enforceable. In following this legal process, the doctor or hospital is doing more than just taking a patient’s word that the bill will be paid at the end of the case. Often an insurance company is involved on behalf of the person who is responsible for causing that injury, and the filing of a lien requires the insurance company to take steps to be sure that the bill is paid. The attorney for the injured individual also has to make sure that the lienholder (in this case, the medical provider) is paid. In other words, legal safeguards are in place so that the lien cannot be ignored. Placing a medical lien is much more forceful than an informal or verbal agreement to wait on payment. The lien acts as a security interest against the pending case that you have against whoever was responsible for your injury. You or your attorney will receive a Notice of a Health Care Provider Lien when a lien is placed on your case by a medical provider.
A valid lien has to be very specific in Illinois. it must identify the injured person and the provider. It also has to be in writing, must name the negligent party, and be served a certain way as dictated by the Act. They are normally prepared by the legal department of a hospital or medical provider. This is not something that, as a patient, you have any control over. You can, however, ask your provider if they would be willing to work on a lien basis. This is very common for ongoing treatments such as physical therapy.
Can I Require my Doctor to File a Lien on my Injury Case?
No. Many providers are willing to put a lien on a medical bill when they know that there is a case pending, but they do not have to. Doctors and hospitals often will work on a lien, especially if the medical bill is a large sum. They understand that various treatments are needed to help a patient heal, but if left to pay out of pocket those treatments might otherwise be cost prohibitive. They also may prefer a lien over submitting a bill through the patient’s health insurance as a way around the contractual billing rates with the health insurance company. A lien cannot be forced upon a provider because all providers have the right to be paid in a timely manner and set their own billing practices. Likewise, you cannot put a lien on your own medical bill. This is a right afforded to the provider of medical service, not the recipient.
What if all of the Health Care Liens exceed what I get in my injury case?
Don’t worry, you won’t be left with nothing. While the Health Care Lien Act protects health care providers by making sure that they are paid, it also protects the patient. The health care lienholders’ combined interests cannot legally exceed 40% of the total recovery from your case. If there is not enough money to go around without hitting the 40% ceiling, the law provides for pro-rata shares and further differentiates between different kinds of providers. However, that does not mean that the remainder of your medical bills are forgiven. In order to try to avoid you having to pay any additional bills out of pocket after, your attorney will try to work something out with the lienholders. Often, and depending on the total bill amounts, negotiations are had to reduce the bills when your case is about to settle. These end negotiations on medical bills with lienholders is an additional benefit of having a personal injury attorney represent you.
Besides a Medical Lien, what other options exist for dealing with bills?
How medical bills are paid following an accident does have additional layers of complexity beyond the placing of a medical lien. Health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and other avenues of recovery are often the best first stop for you in terms of getting your bills paid. Depending on the circumstances of your situation, it is best to speak to an attorney if you are juggling numerous bills and aren’t sure about how and when they should be paid. If you suffered a serious accident in the Chicago area and are tired of dealing with the bills and various insurance companies, give us a call. We can help.