Who Pays the Medical Bills After a Car Accident?

Medical expenses and bills are a major concern of all car accident victims. You have little choice but to get all the medical care you need because your health depends on it. However, the people who provide you with that care need payment for their services. How you can pay them is often a juggling act that requires negotiation while waiting for a car accident settlement. Even when you can get a settlement check, you must usually clear your medical debts before receiving any money for yourself.

Even though there is uncertainty about your bills and who will cover them, you cannot take any shortcuts with your health if you want to make the best possible recovery. Your best bet is to hire an experienced car accident lawyer who will fight for you to receive compensation through a settlement check or jury award. Otherwise, you may face a large share of your medical bills during an already difficult time.

Personal Injury Protection Can Pay Some Bills

There is an order of who will pay medical bills in a car accident. The first place that you will look is your own car insurance policy. In many states, insurance providers must offer you a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection.

PIP coverage can pay:

  • Up to $10,000 in medical bills
  • Up to $200 per week for lost wages
  • Up to $5,000 replacement of services that you need to hire due to your injuries

PIP coverage is available to you in almost all car accidents unless very limited exceptions apply. However, if you only have the minimum amount of PIP coverage, it will be like a drop in the bucket when it comes to your medical expenses for most serious car accidents. While PIP coverage may defray the initial emergency room visit, $10,000 does not even pay for a day in the hospital if you need admission, let alone any surgical procedure. Even severe sprains can end up having medical costs that exceed this threshold.

Your Health Insurance Can Cover Their Share of Expenses

If you have health insurance coverage, you will turn to your insurance provider after your PIP coverage is exhausted. Health insurance companies do not pay for medical expenses when someone else can pay first.

Once your health insurance coverage kicks in, it will cover its own cost share for your expenses. Depending on your health insurance coverage, you may not have full payment for catastrophic injuries. You can have either a co-pay or a cost share for hospitalization and other medical expenses.

Even if it is just a portion of your overall medical expenses, your share of the costs can be daunting, especially when you cannot work. There is a reason why car accident victims have significant financial stress in the days and months after the crash.

You Have the Ultimate Responsibility to Pay Medical Providers

In the end, you are the one who is responsible for your medical bills. The medical provider will send you bills for your share of the costs. Many people have extreme sticker shock when they see what hospitalization and medical services cost. If you receive the full hospital bill, there will be extreme angst about how to pay it. Medical providers are creditors who can take action against you for unpaid bills.

Your best hope is that you can work with medical creditors while your car accident legal claim is pending. If you have hired a personal injury attorney, they can speak with the medical provider and explain the situation. Many doctors are willing to accommodate your situation while you await your legal settlement, provided that you show them proof that there is a legal process.

Your lawyer can either negotiate a payment plan or get you additional breathing room to pay the bills. When the bills are high enough, all the breathing world in the room may not be enough. The responsible party will need to pay in full for the damages they have caused.

Future Medical Bills May Still Come From Your Car Accident

In addition to the medical bills you have incurred in the past, you may have a lifetime of expenses associated with your car accident injury. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to be under the care of a doctor permanently. These costs will also need to be part of your car accident settlement.

The difficulty you may face is knowing your medical costs with any certainty at the time that you have filed a claim and are negotiating a settlement. Although you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement when you have filed your claim, you may not know exactly what the future may hold for you.

Regardless, you must know enough about your future medical needs when you agree to the settlement. The insurance company will demand that you sign a release of future liability before you can get a settlement check. They will not agree to a blank check in the future.

You will then assume responsibility for your medical bills moving forward. The last thing you want is to get a settlement that is not enough to account for your future needs. Then, you may need to use money you were counting on for things like lost wages to pay your medical bills.

Serious Injuries Require a Detailed Estimate of Your Medical Needs

The situation becomes even more difficult when you have suffered a serious long-term injury from your car accident. Complicated back surgeries will cost up to $100,000 or more. Spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries have lifetime costs that often exceed $1 million. Even what may seem like a minor mathematical error can make or break your family financially in the long run.

When you have suffered a serious injury with high medical costs, you need an experienced attorney for many reasons. The first is that they can work with medical and economic experts to help prove your future medical costs with some certainty.

In a personal injury case, everything depends on the estimate of your medical costs. The insurance company will even index your pain and suffering to your medical costs when it uses the multiplier method to calculate what you should receive. In addition, your future medical diagnosis will also affect how much you can get in lost wages.

Do Not Fear Getting Medical Help

Regardless of the cost of your medical bills, you will need to get medical treatment as soon as possible and do whatever your doctor tells you, including all necessary rehabilitation and prescriptions. Even if it seems like you cannot afford the care, you have no choice but to get medical help.

There are several reasons why immediate medical care is both a good idea and a necessity:

  • Many car accident injuries will not get better on their own over time. Instead, left untreated, car accident injuries can worsen and cause more damage.
  • Insurance companies will accuse you of failing to mitigate your own damages if you do not get medical help. This accusation can put you in a catch-22 because you may incur medical bills for which there is no guarantee of repayment.
  • You can negotiate the medical bills and their payment with the medical provider to keep you financially afloat while you wait for your settlement.

In the end, medical care after a car accident is really not optional. You should hire a car accident attorney to do everything within their power to prove that someone else was responsible for the accident. When you do that, you are then eligible for financial compensation.

If you do not get financial compensation for your car accident injuries, you will not need to pay your health insurance company back for what they have already paid. However, you will still need to pay your own cost share of the medical care you received. Without car accident compensation, your long-term financial health may also be at stake.

The Medical Providers and Your Insurance Have the Right to Payment From Your Settlement

If you can receive a financial settlement, the medical providers or your health insurance company are legally entitled to receive payment for your past medical care. The insurance company will keep close tabs on your possible settlement. If you are on Medicare or Medicaid, they must also seek reimbursement for what they have already paid.

Once the medical provider gives you care, they can record a lien that puts them near the front of the line (potentially vying with other creditors) for repayment from your car accident settlement or jury award. The lien must be satisfied before you can receive any money.

The medical provider or insurance company must record the lien in the county where you received the medical services. They must renew the lien every year if you cannot satisfy it.

The good news is that a medical lien cannot exceed more than 25 percent of your car accident settlement amount. After paying for your care and your attorney’s fee, there should still be plenty of money left for you. Your lawyer will factor in the size of the lien when they are negotiating a settlement.

The last thing you want is to not have any money left over for yourself because your family is counting on this money. However, a medical provider may ask you to waive the protection the law gives you about the amount of the medical lien. These issues are exactly why you need an experienced car accident lawyer shortly after your car accident. You should not be left to face complicated financial matters relating to your care alone.

What Are Damages You Can Claim After Car Accident?

Medical expenses are one part of your car accident settlement, albeit a major one.

Your car accident settlement will also include:

  • Lost wages that you should have earned had the accident never happened
  • Pain and suffering for the physical and emotional discomfort that you have gone through and will endure in the future
  • Compensation for the loss of the loss that you had before the action
  • Emotional trauma and distress damages

Many variables factor into your car accident settlement. These are not things that you can anticipate and address on your own. You need the help of an experienced car accident lawyer both to estimate your damages and negotiate with the insurance company for the highest possible settlement check. The insurance company will do everything possible to both downplay your injuries and underpay you. The best line of defense that you have against the insurance company is an aggressive car accident lawyer.

Do Not Let Money Worries Keep You From Hiring a Lawyer

High medical bills may cause you to hesitate to hire a lawyer because you are worried about money. However, money should never be something that gets in the way of getting the legal help that you need. The personal injury law system knows that you have your own financial struggles that you are dealing with, and it does not demand (or ask) that you pay a lawyer before hiring them.

Instead, you pay an attorney after the case and only if you get a settlement or a jury award. This way, you do not need to worry about having to use the limited amount of money that you have on an attorney. You can save your money to help you get through to the point when you can get a settlement, assuming that you qualify for one.

When your medical bills are piling up and you are still out of work due to your injuries, you might think there is no solution in sight. However, once you begin working with a personal injury lawyer, you can feel some relief. Your lawyer should explain how the process works and how much you might expect to receive. They can address your medical bills and any other concerns you have. Seek a free consultation today.

January 17, 2023
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