When a person seeks assistance from a doctor, the patient and doctor enter into either an oral or written contract. The contract states that a person will pay for the services rendered by the doctor on behalf of the patient. As long as the patient has an outstanding debt with the doctor, the doctor, as a creditor, may request payment until the full amount is paid. If a doctor does not receive payment, notice must be given that the payment is delinquent. If payment is not received 10 days after the notice is given, the doctor has the right to take action against the patient. The doctor has 5 years in the case of an oral contract, and 10 years in the case of a written contract, to pursue a lawsuit to recover money owed. If the doctor does not take action through a judicial remedy during the doctor’s right to acquire the debt, the doctors right to recover that money is lost.
A doctor may not, however, use “unfair or unconscionable means” to collect or attempt to collect the outstanding debt according to the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Violations include the following:
•When a doctor seeks or obtains any written statement or acknowledgment in any form that specifies that a consumer’s obligation is one incurred for necessaries of life where the original obligation was not in fact incurred for such necessaries;
•When a doctor seeks or obtains any written statement or acknowledgment in any form containing an affirmation of any obligation by a consumer who has been declared bankrupt, without clearly disclosing the nature and consequences of such affirmation and the fact that the consumer is not legally obligated to make such affirmation;
•When the doctor collects or attempts to collect from the consumer all or any part of the debt collector’s fee or charge for services rendered;
•When the doctor collects or attempts to collect any interest or other charge fee or expense incidental to the principal obligation unless such interest or incidental fee, charge, or expense is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the obligation and by statute; and
•When the doctor makes any communication with a patient whenever it appears that the patient is represented by an attorney and the attorney’s name and address are known, or could be easily ascertained, unless the attorney fails to answer correspondence, return phone calls or discuss the obligation in question or unless the attorney consents to direct communication.
For more information, see: 15 U.S.C.S. §1692c and W. Va. Code § 46A-2-128 (2015).