Do you treat minor patients? Understanding your rights as a creditor and what you can and cannot do to collect a debt owed to your practice is already difficult, but when working with minor patients it can become even more so. One of our most frequently asked questions is:
“A patient received care as a minor and was under their parents’ care. If the patient is now of legal age and the parents still have not paid the bill, can we attempt to collect from the patient?”
The answer, generally, is no. However, this is a difficult question that requires some further information, and may not always have the same answer.
When is a patient considered a minor?
Consumers do not have the ability to enter into an enforceable contract under law until they reach the age of majority. The age of majority is “the age at which a person is granted by law the rights (as ability to sue) and responsibilities (as liability under contract) of an adult.”
In most states the age of majority is 18. However, each state has different statutes regulating the age of the majority. The following states have a higher age of majority:
- Alabama: 19
- Colorado: 21
- Mississippi: 21
- Nebraska: 19
- Puerto Rico: 21
- West Virginia: 21
What does this mean for you? Age of majority is an important issue for creditors (and debt collectors) because a patient only obtains the ability to enter into an enforceable contract, such as your financial policy, when they reach this age.
So to answer our primary question, because the minor patient lacked the capacity to enter into a legal contract at the time of the services, to attempt to collect a debt from them later in life without an underlying contract may be a violation of the FDCPA, according to Boston bankruptcy and asset protection attorney Ted Connolly.
Can you speak with a minor patient about their debt?
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a collector may speak to a minor’s parents regarding their child’s debt, however, because the minor cannot be obligated to pay the debt you may not be able to speak with the minor patient directly. Additionally, a collector can no longer speak with the parents regarding that debt once the patient reaches the age of majority. When working with minor patients it is important to look to your state’s laws to determine your rights in these situations.
Do the minor patient’s parents remain responsible for the debt?
Generally, if a parent signs a financial policy for the treatment of their minor child, they are the ones entering into the contract with your practice and are therefore responsible for the debt. It is very important that you work with your legal representation to include the appropriate language within your financial policy to ensure that this is acceptable under your state’s specific laws, and clear to your patients.
What if the minor child enters into the contract without the parent’s signature?
Although contracts with minors are unenforceable in most instances, there are certain cases where it may be enforceable against parents who were not parties to the contract, specifically in the case of medical care. The common law Doctrine of Necessaries is a principal that places a duty on parents to provide support for their minor child’s necessary expenses. Medical care is one of the most likely services to be considered necessary by the courts.
The Doctrine of Necessaries is common law and is not enforceable in all states, however many states have enacted statutes similar to it, so it is imperative that you check your state’s laws to determine what your rights and responsibilities are as a creditor.
Your financial policy is the key
When working with minor patients it is necessary to have legal representation review your financial policies to ensure that they are consistent with your state’s laws and provide clear responsibilities for the parents of minor children, and that also address whether a patient must sign a new contract upon reaching the age of majority. A clear and concise financial policy will not only protect your practice’s interests, it will also help provide your patients with a better understand of their responsibilities and ensure a better billing experience.
Could your financial policy use an update? Click the image below to get started with our free sample:
- ACA International Search Point, “Age of Majority,” (formerly Fastfax #1153), January 27, 2011
- ACA International Search Point, “Collecting from Minors,” (formerly Fastfax #1254), March 26, 2008
Written by Ali Bechtel, Digital Marketing Manager
This information is not intended to be legal advice and may not be used as legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. Every effort has been made to assure this information is up-to-date as of the date of publication. It is not intended to be a full and exhaustive explanation of the law in any area, nor should it be used to replace the advice of your own legal counsel.