When you arrive at a hospital in an ambulance after a car accident, there is no time to check if you have health insurance coverage or other ways to pay for the medical care that you need. The law requires the hospital to treat you in an emergency regardless of your ability to pay for care. Later, however, you may find yourself facing a hospital lien for the debt that you owe for your medical treatment. Here’s what to do in this situation in New Mexico.
How Does a Hospital Lien Work?
A hospital lien is a legal claim attached to your settlement or judgment that gives a hospital the right to seize your property to pay off a debt that you owe. New Mexico Code Sections 48-8-1 through 48-8-7 state that every hospital that provides emergency or medical care to a patient injured in an accident that is not covered by workers’ compensation has the right to assert a lien.
A hospital lien may be entered upon any judgment, settlement or compromise resulting from the accident that injured the patient. This means that a hospital has the right to place a lien on part of your financial award should you choose to file a lawsuit for the accident that injured you. If you suffer an injury in a car accident, the hospital that treated you has the right to place a lien on any settlement that you receive from a car insurance company.
A lien must follow all of New Mexico’s related laws and statutes to be effective and enforced. Most liens begin with a notice mailed to you or the person who received the medical care. The hospital must file a written notice of the lien with the county clerk, then mail the filed notice to the injured party by certified mail. The hospital must also mail a copy of the filed notice to the insurance carrier of the injured party.
What to Do if You Receive Notice of a Hospital Lien After a Car Accident
If you get injured in a car accident in New Mexico and cannot pay your full medical bill upfront, you may receive notice of a hospital lien against your settlement or judgment award. Even if the other driver is at fault, you may receive a hospital lien while you wait for the driver’s insurance company to issue a settlement. The settlement process can be lengthy, and hospitals often don’t wait to try to collect on overdue balances.
If you receive notice of a hospital lien, take it to a car accident attorney in Albuquerque for a free review. A lawyer can help you understand what the lien means for your car insurance settlement. For example, a lawyer can check to see if the lien is enforceable. If the hospital missed a step or failed to provide valid notice to all applicable parties, the lien may not be effective. If it is a valid lien, your lawyer can help you pay off your medical debt by achieving the best possible settlement or judgment award from the at-fault party. Once the hospital receives the full payment, it legally must release the lien.
Can You Negotiate a Hospital Lien Down?
It may be possible to reduce the amount of your hospital lien after a car accident. A hospital lien in New Mexico is limited to “reasonable and necessary charges.” If a hospital is trying to make more money than is permitted through a hospital lien, your lawyer can uncover discrepancies and negotiate the value of the hospital lien down to a reasonable level. If the hospital is charging you twice for the same test, for instance, or charging you for treatments that you never received, a lawyer can catch these issues and resolve them to minimize a hospital lien. Contact an attorney in Albuquerque today for more information about your rights as the recipient of a hospital lien.