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US hospitals are increasingly checking patients' credit history: why is it needed

More and more American patients see hospital credit checks in their reports, and this undermines their confidence. Your doctor needs to know a lot about you, including details that you would not share with others. But isn't this overkill? ksdk.com.

Photo: Shutterstock

Some hospitals have started doing credit checks on patients before they even get a bill. One of the viewers of Channel 5 On Your Side said that she noticed something on her credit report that she had never seen before. Over the past few years, she has visited facilities in two hospital systems in the St. Louis area.

“I feel betrayed,” said Deborah, who asked not to show her face for fear of privacy. "I was absolutely stunned to see that both of these places had soft credit checks."

Deborah has complex medical needs, but does not consider herself a risky client. She said that she always managed to pay the bills.

“I have two health plans,” she added.

As a former healthcare professional, Deborah said she is very wary of who has her personal information and permission to share it. She couldn't remember anyone ever asking her permission for a credit check.

According to her, the hospital carried out one of the checks 12 days before her first meeting with the doctor, and another in the middle of the night. In none of the cases did anyone raise the question of how she would pay for the treatment and whether she would need funding.

“They didn't even know what my account was,” she said. "What right do they have to do this?"

Pam Dixon, founder of the World Privacy Forum, has increasingly heard complaints from patients like Deborah during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When people get well, they say what happened? Why has my credit been checked dozens of times? " Dixon said.

In most cases, she said, checks have a simple explanation.

“They want to make sure that the person to whom they provide health care products and services can pay their bills. It's that simple, ”Dixon said.

But she added that when hospitals do not inform patients about checks ahead of time, or the notification is hidden in privacy and data authorization forms, "it will really undermine patient confidence."

On the subject: Millions of Insured Americans Can't Cope with Medical Costs

Deborah said that while she is careful about what she signs, it is difficult to know if the permits included a credit check.

“When you go to the hospital, you just sign an electronic form, you fill in your name and have no idea what you are signing,” she said.

Experian Health is Deborah's report credit check service. Its parent company is Experian, a consumer credit reporting company. The service provides various tools for managing and analyzing customer data. Experian Health promises on its website that it "can help organizations predict missed appointments, medication non-adherence and patient treatment trajectory over time."

In a 2018 contract document between Experian Health and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the company says it will test coverage options for uninsured patients and use soft credit checks to "financially check patients." Its patient verification service has a “digital risk assessment” for fraud detection.

Experian Health was asked by reporters about these services and how they use soft credit checks. The representative wrote:

“Experian Health's solutions help healthcare organizations protect consumers by ensuring that their personal information is not used for fraudulent activity and help them by opening the door to financially supporting healthcare, among other services. The verification process can trigger soft requests for a patient's credit report.

As you may know, soft queries do not affect your credit score in any way. They are registered in credit reports in accordance with federal law requiring full transparency for organizations that have access to a consumer's credit profile. Only the consumer can see the soft request. Consumers can view and check their Experian credit reports free of charge - anytime - at Experian.com. "

Dixon said it was okay to opt out of a credit check at the hospital, but that could make it harder to pay for treatment.

“Sometimes they come back to you asking for some kind of deposit, or if you haven't paid the full deductible, they'll ask for payment,” she said.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.

Experts recommend calling the medical office or hospital prior to your visit to find out how they conduct a credit check.

It's also a good idea to check your credit report regularly. You can request a free copy at Annualcreditreport.com.

If you see that a previous provider has reviewed your credit score, you have the right to ask them for confirmation that you agreed to do so. To find out if Experian Health participated in a credit check, look for queries in the section of the report that lists the hospital name, Experian HLTH or SrchAmer.

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