FCC Tightens Medical Debt Collection Rules

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A hospital chain in California is feeling the effects of the FCC’s July interpretative ruling making medical debt collection more difficult.  In an already active area for Plaintiff’s suits, a TCPA class action was filed against Prospect Medical Group’s Southern California facility alleging the hospital used an auto dialer to call Plaintiff on her cellphone to collect the medical debt without her consent.  Relying upon the FCC’s July interpretation clarifying that hospitals need prior express consent to autodial debtors, even in situations where the number has been reassigned, Plaintiff alleges Prospect violated the TCPA. Healthcare providers should obtain written consent to autodial collection calls during the admission process.   The consent should be broadly worded to cover all calls, texts or communications, automated or otherwise.  Further, providers must be sure the consents cover all services regarding which patients may receive collection calls.

What remains from the FCC’s July interpretative ruling is the question of how to deal with reassigned numbers.  Although the FCC may be willing to grant a one-time break to collectors who accidentally use auto dialers to call reassigned numbers once, this may not solve the problem when a call is made and no one answers, hangs up without speaking or, incorrectly states the called party is not there.

This remains an enormous risk for the credit and collection industry as telephone numbers are reassigned so frequently it is nearly impossible to keep on top of them.  Providers must use best efforts to obtain bullet-proof consents and honor all opt-outs received.

For more information about the TCPA, the FCC’s medical debt collection rules or consumer protection laws generally, please contact Joseph Messer at 312-334-3440 or jmesser@messerstrickler.com.