Ask a Lawyer
Sep 12, 2013 | 1660 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I had a car wreck in March and went to Walker Baptist ER. Last week, I got a “hospital lien” in the mail that had been filed in the Probate Court. What does that mean? Are they going to try to take my house? I gave them my Medicare card but Walker Baptist says they will not file it because they want part of any money that I get from the guy who hit me. Can they do that? Addie C., Jasper

If you are injured in an accident such as an automobile wreck and are treated at a local hospital emergency room, it is likely that you may get a notice of a “hospital lien” from the hospital or a company representing the hospital.   Typically, a hospital will assert a lien in any situation where a person is transported to the hospital emergency room by ambulance or helicopter.   

Alabama Code Section 35-11-370 states a hospital shall have a lien for the charges for hospital care of an injured person who entered the hospital within a week of receiving such injuries.  The lien does not attach to a person’s real property (land or home) or personal property (belongings).  Instead, a hospital lien only attaches to any claim, settlement or judgment against any person or entity whose actions caused the injuries requiring hospital care.

The hospital will file the lien in the probate court. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that a hospital lien arises “automatically” in the event someone suffers injuries and receives treatment at a hospital when there is another person or entity responsible.   In most instances, a personal injury attorney can help you determine whether a lien will impact your claim.

You may receive notice of a hospital lien, even if you provided the hospital with information about your health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid.  The hospital will usually be required to file with your health insurance and accept their payment to satisfy the charges.  (It is important to provide health insurance information to the hospital as soon as possible because there may be a time limitation when a claim may be filed.)  In other situations, the hospital may not be required to accept payment from your health insurance and will seek payment from any settlement or verdict.

If there is no health insurance available, or if the hospital refuses to file with your health insurance carrier, the hospital’s lien allows it to seek full payment of the total charges from any settlement or judgment.  This is allowed even though the hospital would have had to accept a much lower amount from private healthcare coverage, like Blue Cross or VIVA, or government programs, like Medicare or Medicaid. 

In your case, Medicare has different rules than private insurance and Medicaid. Congressional law allows hospitals to wait up to a year to decide whether to file your bills on Medicare. They can wait to see if you recover from the other person and make you have to deal with the hospital lien before settlement. The hospital does this to try to force you to pay more that what Medicare would have paid. Even though you paid taxes your entire life to fund your Medicare benefits, the hospital will try to squeeze the “retail” cost of your treatment from you. That amount may be 4-5 times higher that what Medicare or Blue Cross would have paid.

Hospital liens often create a substantial problem in the event that there is a limited amount of insurance available to resolve a claim.  If this is the case, our attorneys at Nelson, Bryan and Jones are usually able to negotiate a reasonable resolution with the hospital or convince the hospital to file with your health insurance.

Nelson, Bryan and Jones represents clients in the following areas: Social Security Disability, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Wrongful Death Cases, Personal Injury Actions, Defective Products, Insurance Disputes and Bad Faith, Fire Loss cases, Trucking Accidents, Worker’s Compensation, Drug Recalls, Employment Law and Property Damage Claims.

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