I Was Hospitalized Against My Will. Should I Have to Pay?

When police came to John Albers’ door one night in June, he could not have been more surprised. When they told him that they were taking him to a nearby psychiatric facility because they had been told he was in danger of hurting himself, he was irritated and said he was fine, but they insisted he go with them. When he got there, he explained again that he was not in any sort of danger or crisis, and that he did not need any assistance. He was admitted anyway. The next morning, he was seen by a staff psychiatrist who approved his discharge.

Albers was at the facility for a total of seven hours, objecting at every turn. And now the facility wants him to pay $2,007.75 for that care. Should he have to?

John Albers

John Albers

Albers describes the chain of events like this: He called a suicide hotline on the advice of his therapist, who suggested it as a means of stress management — to keep from bottling things up. He indicated that his case was not an emergency and opted to use the online chat function. After he had waited five hours, he got a chat message indicating that call volume was too high to address his concerns right away, and that he would be in line for the following day. Albers was angered by having to wait and voiced his frustration with the long wait time. “There was no doubt in my mind that if he continued to treat people that way he would eventually happen across someone who was in crisis and push them over the edge into doing themselves permanent if not fatal harm,” Albers told Credit.com via email.

After that, he shut down his computer. And around midnight, police arrived, summoned by someone at the hotline, who feared Albers would harm himself.

Who’s Responsible?

Is he stuck with the bill? We get this question more often then you may think, from people who thought they were OK after an accident but were taken to an ER anyway, for example, and from others who were treated without their consent or even over their objections.

New York attorney David L. Trueman, who specializes in healthcare issues, said there are three main points that need to be considered in such cases.

The first is whether police (or EMTs or whoever the responder is) acted reasonably in taking the person to the hospital. Did the information they had make the action they took seem reasonable?

The second is, if it was reasonable to bring the person to a healthcare facility, was the hospital entitled to admit him or her? (This is generally done on the order of the attending physician.)

Third is whether the person who was admitted was unable to give consent but received services. That could happen if a person were unconscious, a minor or otherwise unable to give informed consent. “If you receive services, and there is a reasonable basis to believe you needed them, someone has to pay,” Trueman said. In cases where there is doubt about whether a person needed hospitalization or treatment, Trueman said, courts tend to err on the side of protecting the individual from potential harm.

Disputed or not, unexpected medical bills can destroy a budget. And your credit scores can suffer as well. In many cases, it’s possible to negotiate a lower price or a payment plan with your healthcare provider. Or, if you don’t believe you owe the bill at all, to contact a lawyer (you can find one here).

Ignoring it could leave you vulnerable to collection actions or lawsuits that can destroy your credit. The best idea: Keep lines of communication open and keep an eye on your credit as you try to resolve the situation — by checking your credit scores regularly (which you can do for free every month through Credit.com), you can get an overview of your credit standing.

More on Managing Debt:

Main image: ABBPhoto; inset image courtesy John Albers

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