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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Car Accident Patient: Getting Paid.

Many doctors who have treated personal injury victims have themselves become victims due to nonpayment of the medical bills. The desire of physicians to help the personal injury patient is often peppered with the fear that the mounting bills will not be paid or may not be paid for several years. However, there are ways to significantly reduce the risk of delayed or nonpayment for this type of care. In fact, the automobile injury case affords the doctor many avenues of insurance coverage not available in other types of case.

This article will discuss the best means of protecting your rights to be paid, utilizing available insurance and avoiding the pitfalls inherent in these cases.

Know Your Patient's Attorney

Contrary to political grandstanding, not all injuries are compensated by the court system through awards of millions of dollars. In fact, a great number of juries render verdicts for the defendant and give no money to the injured party. Ask the patient's attorney for an evaluation of the likelihood of success, especially if you are asked to wait for your money until after settlement or trial. Your bill is an extension of credit and you are entitled to consider whether you should invest in this case. A skilled attorney will want to cooperate with the doctor for many reasons including the need for medical reports and expert testimony at trial.

The good attorney should search for and help process insurance in order to pay the medical bills as they accumulate. Unfortunately, many attorneys believe that their only obligation is to handle the legal case without regard to payment of the medical bills. Even worse, many lawyers will help clients obtain the insurance coverage payments and advise them that they are entitled to keep this money even if it means a failure to pay the doctor.

While competent counsel cannot guarantee a win at trial, an inexperienced or ineffective attorney will have a difficult task contending with the high-caliber law firms hired by the insurance companies. Even if no suit is filed, an attorney who does not specialize in this area of law will generally not obtain the same level of settlements as experienced counsel. Finally, be extremely skeptical of the patients who are handling their own personal injury cases; insurance companies will take advantage of this situation. Doctors treating self-help patients should insist on "pay as you go" or refer them to a lawyer.

Medical Payments Coverage

Most automobile insurance policies have medical payments coverage, which is a "no-fault" source of payment for medical bills. If this type of coverage is included in a Virginia policy, there must be a minimum of $2,000 available (typical coverage is $5,000) over a maximum period of 3 years treatment. Policies issued in other States have similar provisions. The medical office should process these bills to obtain direct payment to the office. Allowing the patient, to process these bills may result in loss of this income. Before you rely on the attorney, find out his philosophy in this respect because many attorneys consider this money to be the property of the client. The patient's insurance agent can explain the amount of coverage available.

Do not expect the insurance company to offer information regarding the availability of coverage. Quite often, the insurance company will tell you to go to the liable party's insurance even when there is medical payments coverage. An attorney's call or letter should overcome this difficulty.

Reimbursement is only required for "reasonable and necessary expenses." Under this standard the insurance companies regularly claim that the treatment was excessive, that certain procedures were not needed or that the bills were abnormally high for the type of injury. They will request the medical records, narratives and other proof; give them what is reasonable, but do not accept a determination not to pay. The doctor's office must often advocate on behalf of the patient and should get the lawyer to insist on payment.

Do not assume a lack of coverage. Medical expense coverage may be available to many unexpected parties, such as relatives of policyholders even when they are in someone else's vehicle or are pedestrians. Read the policy. Ask the lawyer to make inquiries.

Health Insurance

Under Virginia law, medical bills must be paid by the health insurance carrier even if there is a personal injury-third party claim. Health insurance should be handled in the normal manner.

The medical office should not agree to any reimbursement to the health insurance company by way of assignment, subrogation or other type of pay back. Except in limited circumstances, health insurance policies issued in Virginia cannot require repayment to the insurance company. Therefore, do not reimburse any insurance company for payment received on a paid bill without the specific permission of the patient, as this may cause tremendous problems in obtaining return of this money by the patient from the insurance company.

Lien or Assignment

The patient and the lawyer should always be required to sign a lien/assignment form which requires the lawyer to pay the medical office out of the patient's portion of any settlement or judgment. Be sure the form is sent to the law firm. Current billing should be sent in order to be sure that the latest amount is paid.

Oral promises to pay out of settlement are not enforceable. Just sending the bills to the law firm will only amount to a total lien of $300 under the Virginia Code. Do not send this billing and medical records information directly to the insurance companies, unless instructed to do so by the law firm.

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The above is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to one of Gross & Romanick's lawyers, please call 703-273-1400 or fill out our online Information Request form here.