Mnet Health News delivers the latest news and information articles for the world of healthcare.

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How Will New Phone Technology Designed to Block Nuisance Calls Affect Provider Collection Efforts?

The second largest mobile cell phone provider, AT&T, has released a new service called “AT&T Call Protect.”  The press release issued concerning the free service says that it “gives eligible AT&T wireless customers…more control over unwanted calls on their smartphones.”  They also claim their service “harnesses the power of the AT&T network to give customers automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam call warnings.”

AT&T says that customers can sign up for this service through their account.  AT&T is also in the midst of releasing a new app “AT&T Call Protect;” an app that is designed to provide customers with the ability to block calls temporarily prior to reaching the customers phone and also gives “spam warnings” to customers regarding some incoming calls.

Senior VP of Device & Network Services Marketing, Jeff Bradley said “nuisance calls are an industry-wide problem that unfortunately affects many people.”  He also added “we’ve listened to our customers and know they want a network that provides tools to proactively assist in blocking nuisance calls.  AT&T Call Protect…will help put more customers in control of the calls they receive.”

This kind of technology does appear to be adverse for those working with accounts receivable; and will likely make it more difficult to contact patients if those contacting them have been identified as a “nuisance” (whether the identification comes from the patient themselves or by AT&T) no matter how legitimate and appropriate the call may actually be.  It’s worth noting that both Sprint and Charter Communications are already offering very similar products.

Those working specifically within the realm of healthcare collections will continue to receiving challenges in communicating with patients.  In fact, the reality is that such challenges will be even greater in the future as more communication companies equip consumers with the ability to block calls from specific, targeted telephone numbers.  Healthcare collectors will need to pay even greater attention to tracking data related to calling to decipher which numbers are and which no longer are effective.

Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been looking at the issue of robocalls.  Robocalls are the top source of complaints; proving to be a plague to consumers according to the FCC.  Sadly though, legitimate business calls from medical collectors have been and will continue to be lumped together with illegitimate robocallers; creating a problem within the industry.

Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman will be stepping down in January which has the potential of changing the direction the FCC is moving when his replacement begins his or her tenure.  This change could ultimately affect the creation of federal policy regarding robocalls and the collection industry as a whole.  Many are hopeful that the collection industry will find a way to track data so as to create documentation regarding the impact of these new technologies.

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CMS Issues Online Quality Payment Program Tool

Healthcare clinicians now have access to a tool from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to “share automatically electronic data for the Medicare Quality Payment Program.”  The tool is part of the its ongoing projects “to spur the creation of innovative, customizable tools to reduce burden for clinicians, while also supporting high-quality care for patients,” according to a news release.

The CMS Quality Payment Program website was released in October. The tool, known as an Application Program Interface, “builds on that site by making it easier for other organizations to retrieve and maintain the Quality Payment Program’s measures and enable them to build applications for clinicians and their practices.”

In November, CMS reported tens of thousands of clinicians were using the tool.  “An important part of the Quality Payment Program is to make it easier and less expensive to participate, so clinicians may focus on seeing patients,” said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of CMS.  “This first release is a step in that process, both for physicians and the technologists who support them.”

The Quality Payment Program is “modernizing Medicare to pay smarter for better care” through organized policy and improved technology and operations, according to CMS. “The Quality Payment Program is designed to reduce reporting burden on clinicians so that they can focus on their patients, while also providing useful information to clinicians and other stakeholders, so that overall care quality improves. As the program and its supporting website mature, CMS will continue to release data and APIs to spur innovation and keep participants up-to-date.” More information: http://ow.ly/wLGt306ShF4

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How Medical Bills Rank Among Other Sources of Consumer Debt

Paying off debt is the top cause of financial stress in the U.S., and GoBankingRates.com recently determined medical bills are among the sources of debt for consumers in addition to mortgages, student loans and credit cards. GoBankingRates.com conducted a survey on financial stress earlier this year, finding that paying off debt is the top cause of that stress among more than 7,000 respondents. It followed that survey by interviewing nearly 3,000 consumers on the type of debt they have and their loan balances.

A majority of respondents, 51 percent, said they are not in debt.  “Perhaps this is because some respondents are overlooking certain types of debt they might have, such as small balance accounts or loans in deferment,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in an article from GoBankingRates.com.

Only about 6 percent of respondents said medical bills are the biggest source of their debt, according to the survey. The median amount of medical debt for those respondents is $600.  “Although 79 percent of survey respondents report having zero medical debt, it’s the top source of debt in more states than credit card debt,” GoBankingRates.com reports.

The median medical debt for respondents earning up to $24,999 is $1,500. Twenty-seven percent of respondents in that income group have medical debt, according to the survey.  A separate survey on financial burdens, released by GoBankingRates.com in April 2016, found that healthcare costs are “the most worrying economic issue” for consumers.

The survey also found that many respondents reported carrying various forms of debt that varies depending on their income and age.  Among all respondents, consumers ages 65 and older are the least likely to have debt, while those ages 35 to 44 are the most likely to have unpaid bills, according to the survey.  Respondents who earn between $100,000 and $149,999 are more likely to have debt than respondents in other income groups.

More information: http://ow.ly/HNrJ305pPPX and http://ow.ly/2bGA305q2ap

 

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Best Practices to Improve Price Transparency

When Elizabeth Serie’s son broke his femur last year their experience in the emergency room shed light on the shortcomings of the process for patients to find cost information from a healthcare provider – especially on short notice.  It’s important for patients to know the cost of care at the time of service and the discussion of price transparency best practices is becoming commonplace among healthcare providers today.

Serie is familiar with this trend primarily through her career as product manager, price transparency, for Experian Health, but said her experience in the emergency room exemplified how little information is available on cost of care.  “Within a few minutes I was able to learn more about [my son’s] injury and treatment online—in between conversations with doctors—but I could find little about the cost,” Serie said.

As consumers’ out-of-pocket healthcare expenses increase, price transparency information for patients is becoming critical for them to access at any time; allowing them to make educated decisions on how much they spend.  Serie presented trends and best practices on price transparency for healthcare providers during a recent Experian Health webinar “Providing Patients with Estimates: How Knowing What They Owe Can Boost Your Bottom Line.”

Today, consumers have many more options for their care and have to be mindful of cost if they are enrolled in high deductible health plans— which can lead to higher out-of-pocket costs.  Discussion of price transparency is also increasing at the legislative level and some states are considering legislation against “surprise medical bills,” according to Serie.  

“Surprise medical bill is a term commonly used to describe charges arising when an insured individual inadvertently receives care from an out-of-network provider, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation released in March 2016.  Technology can help patients and providers be on the same page with determining the best cost of care; and providers can implement standardized processes and best practices to communicate with patients, Serie explained during the webinar.

Providers should also train staff on consistent processes and consider having a script for employees to follow as they speak with patients. This can help providers have the information they need to collect payment from consumers in a timely manner and for patients to know they have accurate in-network price estimates before they receive care.

“Incorrect registrations are major financial burdens for any kind of facility, especially when employees must designate time to work the denials and reconcile any incorrect reimbursement,” Serie said.

The bottom line, according to Serie, is for providers to determine what it will take to acquire the consumer who will be able to pay a portion of their bill or leverage available financial assistance.  “My answer is pretty simple, have the best processes and tools in place to make sure the staff is satisfied and that transfers to patient satisfaction and higher collections prior to service,” Serie said.  

According to Serie, providing patients’ documentation in paper form in person or through mail or email after a visit can be a critical added step to ensure they can make an informed care decision.  And, providers can have a copy of that information readily available when the patient comes in for their scheduled care.  A price transparency tool that patients can access themselves online could also be a win-win in the long run.

“If we can continue to get good at providing estimates, we’re also going to want consumers to be able to take some of that pressure and responsibility off of us and have them to be able to get the information on their own,” Serie said.  At the same time, they expect clarity and functionality at their healthcare provider’s office that will provide a seamless encounter between accessing information online and in person.

Through technology and in-person assistance, patients will eventually be able to research their symptoms, find the right provider for their specific care, get a price estimate, schedule an appointment, receive care, manage accounts and pay for service, conduct follow up and obtain feedback, according to Serie during the webinar.  

“During this online healthcare encounter, it’s truly an opportunity to engage the patient. The consumer is introduced to you and your brand at this time. They’re really seeking information; they want it to be super quick and easy.  Reinforce that positive experience and your brand and build that confidence, trust and loyalty with your patient,” Serie said.

Visit Experian’s website to listen to an archived recording of the webinar: http://ow.ly/f6Nc304Q6Nw.

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HHS ‘A Bill You Can Understand’ Challenge is Underway

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has proposed changes to the Physician Fee Schedule to update how Medicare pays for primary care.  “The rule’s primary care proposals improve how Medicare pays for services provided by primary care physicians and other practitioners for patients with multiple chronic conditions, mental and behavioral health issues, as well as cognitive impairment or mobility-related impairments,” it states. “These changes will improve payment for clinicians who are making investments of time and resources to provide more coordinated and patient-centered care.”

Updates to payment policies, payment rates and quality provisions for services provided in calendar year 2017 are included in the annual Physician Fee Schedule.  “Today’s proposals are intended to give a significant lift to the practice of primary care and to boost the time a physician can spend with their patients listening, advising and coordinating their care—both for physical and mental health,” said CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt in the news release.

Additional policies proposed in the 2017 payment rule include primary care and care coordination, mental and behavioral health, cognitive impairment care assessment and planning and care for patients with mobility-related impairments.  “The rule proposes revisions to payment for chronic care management, including payment for new codes and for extra care management furnished by a physician or practitioner following the initiating visit for patients with multiple chronic conditions,” according to CMS.

“This proposed change is a significant update to the Physician Fee Schedule and will support primary care when and where patients need it most.”  CMS is accepting comments on the proposed rule until Sept. 6 and will respond to comments in a final rule.

More information: http://ow.ly/jGhN302rp4R.  Download the proposed rule from the July 15, 2016 Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/publicinspection.

 

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ACA Exchanges Receive Enough Revision to Continue

 

The changes that have been put forth to help secure the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange markets for health insurance consumers should be enough to tide it over for another year but it is likely that more changes will be necessary in the upcoming year.  The change announcement has been released sooner than originally planned and it includes adjustments to plan year 2018 for plan requirements as well as the ACA risk adjustment program.

These revisions were brought on due to the fact that major insurers on the exchanges such as UnitedHealth, Aetna and Humana have all said that they would be scaling back their offerings in plan year 2017 which has created issues.  In fact, these issues coupled with low enrollment in the exchanges has forced some to question whether the exchanges have the ability to continue.

Some have voiced concerns about noteworthy premium increases in certain states, even as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released their findings which pointed out that coverage in these States would still be affordable for those receiving premium subsidies.  

The changes are being met with optimism by those in the health insurance industry and many are pleased that recommendations by the industry are being addressed in those latest changes.  It is likely that smaller, more regional plans having less capital on hand will be most benefitted.  

Changes to risk adjustment have become vital as the insurance industry has pointed out that those enrolling in plans have proven to be sicker and thus more costly to insure than first expected.  A new factor being taken into consideration is prescription drug data for diseases such diabetes, AIDS and HIV or Hepatitis C.

It is a certainty that risk adjustment will be paying close attention to those who enroll through the exchanges outside of the open enrollment window.  Some insurers have stated that consumers have been waiting until they are sick and in need of care to sign up for health insurance.  Restrictions for enrollment outside of the open enrollment period have become stricter in response to industry concerns.

While the Obama administration is working to instill confidence in the health insurance marketplace so as to leave a stabilized market; the next administration along with the Congress are likely to make changes to keep the system in place.  

Other changes that have given a level of hope and encouragement are the fact that healthier and younger people are enrolling which will provide them the option of less coverage for a lower premium each month.  

CMS is also considering a Simple Choice plan that would work as a high deductible plan that can be used in conjunction with a health savings account (HSA).  This would be a bronze level plan and come as a choice in response to the need for high deductible options as they are “valued by many consumers.”

Bronze plans require the consumer to pay for a major service before the deductible kicks in; a service such as an emergency room visit, a doctor’s office visit, or a drug purchase.  Preventative services, however, will still require no out-of-pocket expense from the insured.

While it is extremely important that the younger and healthier group of consumers become a part of the health insurance system, some of the new options are of concern to patient advocacy groups.  They fear that some consumers might not fully understand which services are and which are not covered and thus will not fully understand how a high deductible insurance policy works.

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HHS ‘A Bill You Can Understand’ Challenge is Underway

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is soliciting new approaches to medical billing from healthcare organizations and other innovators through its “A Bill You Can Understand” challenge. “People who use healthcare in the U.S. today can often receive bills from multiple hospitals, doctors, labs or specialists for the same episode of care that vary in content, presentation and use of health industry jargon,” HHS reports.

“Because of this, it can be difficult for patients to understand what they owe, what their insurance plan covers, and whether the bills are correct or complete.”  HHS will issue awards for the design that is easiest to understand and the best transformational approach to improve the medical billing system for patients.

“Submissions will be judged based on understandability, creativity and how well they address the challenges outlined by patients, providers and payers, among other criteria explained on the challenge website,” according to HHS.  Several healthcare organizations have agreed to test or implement the winning designs. Entries for the challenge will be accepted until Aug. 10, 2016.  More information: http://ow.ly/3UXG300uvMp

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How Hospitals Can Work With In-House Collections (Pt. 3 How Costs for Providers and Consumers Shape Collections)

Measuring the costs for implementing an in-house collection department as opposed to outsourcing with a third-party vendor should be considered comparatively in helping patients resolve their accounts which now bear an increase in financial responsibility.  Providers are also facing an increase in costs related to security and compliance, as well as technology regulations and these things can divert attention from the patients themselves.  

The costs of technology for security coupled with an increase in patient responsibility for healthcare are inspiring healthcare systems and providers to make adjustments to other areas of spending which can include collections.  

Medical bill obligations are not likely to change in the near future.  The amount of employers who are now offering only high deductible plans has grown quite a bit in the last several years and is expected to continue that pattern.  As the percentage of high deductible plans continues to grow, the amount of insureds who choose to forgo a level of healthcare has also increased and will continue to do so in the future.

A recent Kaiser Survey shows that 20 percent of those sampled that currently have health insurance report that they have had problems in paying for medical services in the last year.  They also point out that such bills can cause financial hurdles as well as changes in their lifestyle and even employment.

The survey further points out that of those who had insurance when bills were created, 75 percent of them claim that the amount that was their responsibility (such as copays, coinsurance and deductibles) was more than they felt they could reasonably afford.  The report showed that this seemed to be true of those who had chosen high deductible plans as well as those who had lower deductible plans which could suggest that this is a very real problem since even those who have lower responsibility plans were reporting issues.

Providers can strive to strike a balance between patient medical bill issues and budgeting for compliance and technology investments for the facility.  A balance should also be found between working with patients and front-end expenses such as the implementation of in-house systems that could be beneficial to self-pay collections.

Even though it might be more beneficial for the larger hospital systems to make use of in-house collection departments, tips from the world of banking can still be advantageous to healthcare facilities and systems of all sizes as the shift continues to a greater level of customer service in the healthcare industry while patients continue to take on more financial responsibility.

“To offer a world class patient experience, an investment in training and education of customer service agents is paramount” said Hamilton.

 

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How Hospitals Can Work With In-House Collections (Pt. 2 Finding the Balance Between In-House Collections & Outsourcing)

However, in-house collections is typically not the right fit for all providers.  Many see the smaller surgical hospitals and ASC’s as benefitting more from outsourcing collections to a third party since it is more likely that each employee will need to handle multiple jobs which results in employees being stretched thin.

An analysis of the cost of doing such processes in-house versus outsourcing them should be completed.  It behooves most health systems to reduce costs wherever possible, so an evaluation needs to be made regarding the size of each health system or hospital.  This requires a cost/benefit analysis to decipher whether an in-house collection department is appropriate or if outsourcing to a third-party collection vendor may be the best course of action.

The costs can be large including technology costs such as the purchase of collections software, predictive dialers, and phone systems as well as all of the costs associated with hiring additional staff and the necessary management and systems needed to ensure compliance and evaluate staff performance.  Even with in-house collection departments set up, providers would find it necessary to ensure a high level of customer service to protect the patient relationship.

Providers may be able to follow processes used by banks, such as providing billing statements that are easy to read and understand, they would also need to make certain that there are staff available to communicating with patients regarding billing questions.  Patients need to see that the provider is willing to work with them to build a long-lasting relationship.

Healthcare providers can also choose to outsource a limited number of accounts while choosing to work the majority on an in-house basis.  Those providers that choose a partnership with third-party agencies can mirror banking processes for their choice of vendor partners.  Banks are typically very choosy in this area.  Hospitals can do the same by making site visits with vendor partners they are potentially looking to work with while also developing a list of expectations as well as a list of best practices.

“In the past, the healthcare industry may have had a less formal process of choosing vendor partners, but this has certainly changed in the last few years” said Hamilton.  Healthcare providers should make certain that they evaluate and analyze the return on their investment by looking at the level of productivity as well as the increase in level of collections after partnering with a vendor according to Hamilton.

Vendor partners should be in regular contact with their provider clients, which can help keep both organizations up to speed on any regulatory requirements.

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How Hospitals Can Work With In-House Collections

The fact that self-pay amounts, high deductible plans and patient responsibility are changing since the ACA was passed is well known.  A recent survey shows that more than 60 percent of employers have already added or are planning on adding a high deductible plan in the next few years.

Another report shows that hospitals here in the US are seeing their level of risk from a financial perspective change based on the fact that patients are now carrying a greater level of financial responsibility through their health plans.

This report shows that since the ACA was enacted in October of 2013 and the number of people carrying health insurance began to grow, provider collections have grown and a noteworthy portion of the revenue now comes from a source that is more stable than the previous method of self-pay patient responsibility from the uninsured.

There has been an increase of 13 percent of total accounts receivable from insured self-pay patients in the last year based on the information gleaned from the report.  The amount of accounts receivable in total from self-pay patients who are uninsured has decreased by 22 percent.  This is viewed as being the result of patients joining Medicaid who are high financial risks in Medicaid expansion states.

While insurance costs and healthcare coverages are changing, a new direction is gaining steam as to how providers of healthcare can manage revenue cycle processes while still ensuring a high level of customer service.

Self-pay collections for hospitals can be improved through typical in-house processes but also by making use of outsourcing options through a third party agency.  Hospitals that opt to make use of in-house collections can benefit from banking processes for the collection of debt in dealing with consumers.

“Hospitals can learn some important lessons from banks” said Mnet Health Services CEO David Hamilton.  “Banks often do outsource but also rely heavily on in-house collection processes” said Hamilton.  It could be beneficial for hospitals to look at how banks make use of technological advances and apply that to their own processes in working with developing a compliance management protocol, call monitoring, and reviewing patient accounts.

Oftentimes, automated systems used by banks include skip-tracing, analytic reports pertaining to calls, and automated dialers to be certain the level of customer service is not only apropos but also specific to the customer.  Banks are also constantly evaluating their processes to make certain that they are efficient but also that they are truly helpful in working accounts.  “While the technology for self-pay is not quite where we would like for it to be yet; some hospitals are making use of automated dialers, although most are not yet equipped for them” said Hamilton.

 

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Long-Term Decline in Consumers’ Trouble with Paying Medical Bills Continues



The number of individuals under age 65 with problems paying medical bills continues to decline, according to the most recent updated estimates by the National Health Interview Survey from the National Center for Health Statistics—part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentages of people under age 65 who were in families having problems paying medical bills declined from 21.3 percent (56.5 million) in 2011 to 16.5 percent (44.5 million) through the first six months of 2015. 

The number through the first six months of 2014, from NHIS survey results released in June 2015, was 47.7 million, ACA International previously reported. In 2011, about 20 percent of families ages 18-64 were in families having problems paying medical bills compared to 15.9 percent through the first six months of this year, according to the latest survey results. 

The percentage of people under age 65 who were uninsured and in families having trouble paying medical bills also declined from 35.7 percent in 2011 to 29.8 percent in the first 6 months of 2015. Through June 2015, children ages 0-17 were more likely than adults ages 18-64 to be in families having problems paying medical bills.  However, the percentage of children in those families did decline from 23.2 percent in 2011 to 18.1 percent through June 2015. 

Findings from the survey also show that 21.8 percent of people under age 65 with public insurance coverage were in families having trouble paying their medical bills compared to 12.7 percent with private insurance coverage –both declines since 2011, according to the survey.  Fewer families with people under age 65 who are identified as poor in the survey are having trouble paying medical bills than in 2011. 

Overall, each year people who were poor or near-poor were twice as likely as those who were not-poor to be in families having problems paying medical bills, according to the survey. In September 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health Interview Survey also found that the percentage of people who do not obtain needed medical care for cost reasons is declining. 

According to that survey, 4.4 percent of the population interviewed from January through March 2015 failed to obtain needed medical care due to the expense at some time during the past 12 months, a figure that is lower than the 2013 estimate of 5.9 percent. 

Between 1997 and 2002, the percentage of people who did not obtain medical care for cost reasons ranged from a low of 4.2 percent to a high of 4.7 percent. From there, starting in 2003, the percentage started to increase to a high of 6.9 percent in 2010, according to the survey. In 2011, it started to decline to the most recent amount of 4.4 percent. More information: http://ow.ly/ W399M

According to the survey:

*The percentage of poor people under age 65 who were in families having problems paying medical bills decreased from 32.1 percent in 2011 to 24.5 percent in the first six months of 2015.

*The percentage of "near-poor" people under age 65 who were in families having problems paying medical bills decreased from 34.7 percent in 2011 to 27.1 percent in the first six months of 2015.

*The percentage of "not-poor" people under age 65 who were in families having problems paying medical bills decreased from 15.2 percent in 2011 to 12.2 percent in the first six months of 2015.

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Could the Message I Just Left for a Patient Be Viewed as a Communication With a Third Party?

The debate about how a message can be left without violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has been ongoing for many years at this point.  The topic is now regularly discussed in the healthcare community as providers work diligently to ensure compliance with rules and regulations governing debt collection practices while actively encouraging patients to pay for services that have been rendered.  Recently, a District Court in the State of Oregon joined the discussion and the opinion issued interestingly indicates that each decision should be specific to the facts of a particular case.

In the Oregon case, a consumer made allegations that a collection agency was in violation of FDCPA when it left two separate messages for the consumer on her cell phone which were overheard by others (third parties).  Before the messages being called into question were left, the consumer, Ms. Peak, had agreed to a payment arrangement with the collection agency holding her debt.  

Throughout the course of her payment arrangement, the collection agency made contact with Peak to confirm her method of payment while also confirming that the phone number that they had on file was the best number to reach her.  Apparently, Peak was driving in her car at this point, so the collection representative was now aware that the phone number was that of a cell phone.  

However, the collection agency was unaware that Peak’s boyfriend had cancelled his own wireless coverage and had taken to using Peak’s phone; gaining access to any voice mail messages left for her.  At some point after that, the collection agency made another attempt to reach out to Peak on her cell phone but instead reached her voicemail.  Later on, her boyfriend began listening to voicemails that had been left on the cell phone and heard the collection agency message left for Peak.

A month later the same collection agency called and left another voicemail that was similar in nature to the message mentioned above.  However, this time, Peak decided to listen to her message through the loudspeaker on her cell phone in the break room provided by her employer, which, oddly enough, was another collection agency; so, the message was heard by her employer.  After that, she filed suit asserting that the collection agency that had been reaching out to her had violated the FDCPA alleging that the messages that were heard by others were communications with third parties and unauthorized.

The court came to the conclusion that the messages did, in fact, qualify as “communications” under FDCPA rules, however, they were not to be viewed as communications with a third party.  The court took the stand that “a communication is only with a third party” if “the debt collector knows or should reasonably anticipate the communication will be heard or seen by a third party.”  The court further stated “no matter how careful a debt collector is, there is always some risk a third party will intercept the communication.”

The court also declared that “Congress intended the FDCPA to cause debt collectors to be very careful in the way they communicate with consumers, but it did not intend the statute to completely shut down all avenues of communication and force debt collectors to file a lawsuit in order to recover the amount owed.”  A “strict liability standard would invite abuse” while “a negligence standard strikes the right balance because it holds debt collectors liable for failure to take reasonable measures to avoid disclosure to third parties, but does not require them to avoid such disclosure at all costs”.

The determination was made by the court that it was unreasonable to believe that it could have been foreseeable by the collection agency that the phone messages could be heard by Peak’s employer or her boyfriend.  The court pointed out that a pivotal piece of information was the fact that the calls placed were sent to a cell phone and that the outgoing message coming from that phone identified only Peak as the owner of the phone.  

Finally, the court pointed out that “the cell phone/land line distinction is important because a caller may reasonably assume messages left on a cell phone’s voicemail system will not be accidentally overheard, as they must be accessed through the cell phone itself.  By contrast, if any person is in the vicinity of a land line answering machine, that person may overhear a message as it is being left.” 

While common sense seems to have prevailed in this case, ambiguity still exists under the FDCPA as well as the governance of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  Now is a good time to be certain that your medical office or collection vendor is doing everything necessary to be compliant.

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