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Can a "surprise" medical bill lead to a lien on your home?

Imagine this: You suffer a serious injury in a car crash, slip-and-fall accident or another event, and you visit your local hospital for treatment because you know the particular medical facility is in your insurance network. In the months to come, however, you find out you owe so much in medical bills from your visit that authorities have placed a lien against your home.

It may sound crazy, but apparently, it is an increasingly common occurrence across Colorado. To date, more than 170 homeowners across metropolitan Denver have had liens placed against their homes. Here is how it keeps happening.

The role of the out-of-network provider

When you suffer a serious injury or illness, chances are, you go to a local hospital you know accepts your insurance, and you receive treatment there while understanding you may need to pay for whatever your insurance provider does not. In many cases, however, patients wind up receiving treatment at the hospital from medical providers that do not actually fall within their networks, though patients do not always know this when they receive treatment.

Fast forward a few weeks, months or what have you when patients find out the physicians who performed their procedures are not only not in their network, but have no plans to accept their insurance. How can this happen? As of right now, doctors often partner with certain hospitals to come in and essentially perform work as subcontractors, meaning they do not have the same contractual agreements with insurance providers as doctors who work directly for hospitals. When you do not pay their bills, which may prove exceedingly high, they can come after you and, in some cases, place a lien on your residential property that prevents you from selling, refinancing or transferring its title until you pay your debt.

These liens are highly complex, but they can substantially affect not only your finances, but your entire life and future plans. If you are a homeowner who has had a lien placed against your home because of a medical bill, you may have options available to you.

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