Patient Complaints: What Your Dental Office Needs to Know!
In today’s dental debt collection environment, regulatory compliance has become as important to most dental practices and their collection partners as recovery results. Federal regulators like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are playing an increasingly large role in the ARM industry and dentists and dental office managers simply cannot afford to ignore the questions and concerns of consumers (i.e. your patients!) regarding the bill pay process. Consumers now even have the ability to submit formal complaints to the CFPB against your collection agency partner – making the patient experience and regulatory compliance a top priority when collecting unpaid patient debt.
To help enhance your compliance management processes and better meet the needs of your patients, here are five of the most common consumer questions submitted to the CFPB regarding debt collection – and the CFPB’s response:
1. What constitutes harassment by a debt collector?
CFPB’s Response: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any other people they contact. Some examples of harassment are:
- Repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone.
- Obscene or profane language.
- Threats of violence or harm.
- Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company).
- Calling you without telling you who they are.
If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, contact the CFPB, the FTC, or your state’s attorney general. You can also sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you sue under the FDCPA and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees and may also have to pay you damages.
The FDCPA also says debt collectors cannot use false, deceptive, or misleading practices. This includes misrepresentations about the debt, including the amount owed, that the person is an attorney, threats to have you arrested, threats to do things that cannot legally be done, or threats to do things that the debt collector has no intention of doing. Debt collectors also are not allowed to use certain practices that are considered unfair.
2. Can debt collectors call me anytime they want, day or night, about my debt?
CFPB’s Response: No. Debt collectors may not harass you or anyone else, over the phone or through any other form of contact. Debt collectors cannot call you at times they know are inconvenient (or should know are inconvenient), such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you specifically agree to it. Also, if a debt collector knows that you are not allowed to receive the debt collector’s calls at work then the debt collector is not allowed to call you there. If your employer does not allow you to receive personal calls at work you should let the debt collector know that.
3. Can a collection agency try to have me arrested over a debt collection?
CFPB’s Response: You cannot be arrested for not paying a debt collector. Collections agencies do not have the legal authority to issue arrest warrants. Nevertheless, if a collector has obtained a judgment against you and you ignore an order to appear in court, a judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. You should never ignore a court order. If you get a court order to appear, you should go to court and provide any required information. You may want to consult with an attorney to help you with your court appearance.
4. If I tell a debt collector to stop contacting me, can it still report my debt to the credit reporting bureaus?
CFPB’s Response: Yes, if it is has a legal right to do so. Telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not make the debt go away if the debt is yours. The collector may still report your debt as an unpaid collection item to the credit bureaus. Any information the debt collector provides must be accurate. If you dispute the debt, the debt collector must also include information about the dispute when giving information to the credit reporting agency.
5. Can debt collectors tell other people about my debt?
CFPB’s Response: No. Under federal law, a debt collector may contact other people but generally only to find out where you live, what your phone number is, and where you work. Debt collectors are generally prohibited from contacting people you know more than once, and they may not say they are trying to collect on a debt.
Generally, a debt collector may not discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, your parents (if you are a minor), your guardian, or your attorney. If the debt collector knows an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney instead of you.
The questions and answers above were taken from a recent report released by the CFPB titled The CFPB’s Advice to the Consumer, where a number of debt collection and compliance management topics were discussed. As a dentist or dental office manager it is important to keep an eye on how industry regulators like the CFPB are communicating with consumers like your patients, because it is consumer questions such as these that eventually shape the regulatory environment you operate in.
Partnering with a collection agency that closely monitors changes in industry regulations and compliance requirements is an essential step of the collections and accounts receivable management process.
Is Your Dental Debt Collection Partner Compliant?
Remember to ask these questions when evaluating a collection agency and their compliance management policies:
- What investments does your agency make in compliance education?
- Are all collectors trained and tested on healthcare/collection laws like the FDCPA? TCPA? HIPPA?
- Are your collectors paid based on recovery results alone, or do you factor in the patient experience?
- How can I be SURE your collectors will comply with all laws and regulations when communicating with my patients?
- What is your patient complaint resolution process?
- How do you ensure full compliance with the CFPB?
These are just a few examples of questions that will help determine whether or not a potential collections partner will attract negative attention from federal regulators, like the CFPB. As previously mentioned, regulatory compliance has become a crucial piece of the accounts receivable management puzzle. For more information on the role of the CFPB in dental collection compliance – as well as other common consumer questions, visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov/
YOUR TURN: What are some of the other questions you receive from your patients regarding the bill pay and collections process? Do you or your staff make an effort to educate your patients on their rights during the bill collection process? We want to hear from you!