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Can doctors deny treatment for unpaid medical bills?

N.Y. bill extends medical malpractice deadline
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-23 10:11:49-04

PHOENIX, AZ — Looking to avoid a hefty medical bill, urgent care facilities offer treatment options not typically found at a normal doctor's office. However, a bill could stop you from getting the treatment you need.

Imagine you're sick with a fever, cough, runny nose. Not an emergency, but you need to see a doctor. So, you decide to head to the urgent care that helped you last time. When you get there, they inform you that you have an outstanding balance and you can't see a provider until that bill is paid.

That's what happened to Jessica Vance's daughter. In her case, the insurance company had not processed her last visit; making the bill appear unpaid.

"I said, what do you mean you won't see her? They said, 'You have a balance due,'" said Vance. "I said, can't you call the insurance? They said no."

With no other option, Vance put the $690 bill on her credit card.

So, what happens if you can't pay? Can a doctor or clinic refuse to see you even if you're sick? Believe it or not, they can.

The "Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act" requires all providers to treat patients with emergency conditions before talking about costs. The key part: it has to be an emergency. Meaning, they can refuse if your condition is not life threatening.

Most offices put these policies in writing, so be sure to check. You may have signed an agreement that your account will be in good standing before receiving further treatment.

If an office demands payment, ask if you can pay part of it or create a payment plan.

You can also contact your insurance provider to see what options they can offer you.

In the end, if you can't get service and have to move on, you can request your medical records. The office must provide them, although there may be a small fee.