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CONSUMER ALERT: Surprise medical bills dragging down credit scores

(IMG: WPMI) CONSUMER ALERT: Surprise medical bills dragging down credit scores

More than one-quarter of Americans with health insurance have received a surprise medical bill.

According to a new survey from consumer reports, those surprise hospital bills could drag down your credit score.

A 10-day hospital stay for a heart condition in 2016 left Bill Townsend with medical bills topping $130,000.

The 59-year-old comic book store owner thought his insurance would cover most of it. But after months of trying to navigate the 76-thousand-dollar gap, between what his insurance would pay and what the hospital billed him, he was turned

over to a collections agency---the first step to blowing up his credit.

"Something I really don't like is uncertainty. And it was living with it 24/7," said Towsend. "The idea that I don't know how this was going to end, am I going to lose my

business? Am I going to lose my house?"

Donna Rosato, a Consumer Reports Money Editor says, "Medical debt can do major damage to your finances if you leave it unresolved."

New rules are trying to help. The three big credit agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are now required to wait 180 days before putting an unpaid medical bill on your credit report. So if you're disputing a

claim, let the hospital or doctor's office know you need more time to sort things out.

And if the insurance company ultimately pays a bill, it has to be taken off your credit report.

"And if the bad debt doesn't disappear, you're gonna have to follow up with your health care provider to get proof of payment and you might have to insist that the

debt is removed from your credit report," said Rosato.

Townsend ultimately hired a medical billing advocate to help him resolve his bill. It wasn't cheap, but it saved his sanity.

"It's just like a great weight had been lifted off," said Townsend.

If you need help with your medical bills, there's a resource for you called the Patient Advocate Foundation.

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