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Related: Hospital billed me for services that I explicitly refused. Are there any legal ramifications for hospital?

After my wife went to the doctor I received a bill that I considered wholly unreasonable. There were some serious mistakes on their bill (i.e. charged me for services that never happened) and it took months of phone calls and written requests to get the more egregious mistakes fixed. I still ended up with a bill that is unreasonably high, but of course I'm stuck paying it anyway. For many reasons, I have no desire to simply pay them the outstanding balance. I figured I'd just pay off some (reasonably) small amount each month, which is common in my area. So common in fact, that when I was first looking at the bill in their payment portal, there was an option "Don't want to pay your whole bill? Pay $x amount a month".

When I finished arguing my bill with them I went to the payment portal to submit a partial payment. I couldn't find that "Pay $x a month" button so I simply submitted a payment for a "reasonable" amount. I eventually found that button again, and the requested amount is twice what I sent them.

A few days after sending my payment I received a phone call from the hospital. Unfortunately I don't know what they wanted to say because they refused to talk until I proved I was me (by providing some personal information). I respond to these requests by refusing to identify myself and instead asking for information about their department/extension so I can call them back quickly after I find their number on their website. They refused to provide that information because I had not yet proven that I was me, and claimed they could not give away any information at all. I ended the phone call shortly thereafter and told them that, therefore, if they wanted to inform me of anything, they should mail me.

I have since received confirmation that my partial payment was accepted. What I would like to do right now is simply continue paying them that same amount until the bill is paid off (about 1.5 years). What I don't want to do is call them (I've been on the phone with them enough and it is always painful). I also don't want to get surprised with interest charges or threats of collections. My expectation (hope?) is that, legally, their acceptance of my payment implies consent to a partial payment plan. If I ever do get a phone call from them I would like to know if there are any applicable laws about this, or if I should plan on changing my payment plan if need be. I suppose I can boil it down like this:

Does a contract have to be formally signed to establish a partial payment plan? If not, what conditions must be met for a partial payment plan to be effectively agreed upon by both parties?

  • How could a single payment establish a payment plan? You could send them that amount once a week, once a month, or once a year. I find it unlikely that their cashing of the check would amount to them agreeing to the completely unspecified terms of your proposed repayment plan. How could they even know what they are agreeing to? – Nuclear Wang Jan 14 at 19:21
  • @NuclearWang I've actually paid off medical bills with partial payments without ever formalizing an agreed upon plan. Every month they sent me a bill summarizing my account (i.e. initial bill, payments received, remaining balance) and I sent them a check for the same amount. No partial payment plan was ever officially created, but the medical center obviously had no trouble with what I did. It could be that they simply were lax with their standards, but as a result I don't actually know what the legal requirements here are. – conman Jan 14 at 19:28
  • @Nuclear Wang - however, absent prior/contemporaneous advice of the intent of payment to the contrary, making a partial payment could be deemed acceptance of the services rendered, and crystallize liability. – davidgo Jan 16 at 4:35
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A payment plan is not a contract. You could have a contract where you promise to do something that you don't already have to do, but you can't have a contract obligating you to pay (you already have that obligation). Instead, you seem to have negotiated a modification on the terms of the existing contract: they may have agreed to allow you to pay in a new way that is advantageous to you.

However, I do not think it is clear that they have agreed to anything. Accepting partial payment simply means that they have accepted partial payment, but they can still send the creditors after you and charge interest (presumably: per the initial agreement). You would need some explicit document spelling out those new terms, or some clear evidence of an agreement reached with the hospital (e.g. a witness to the conversation). It would need to say something like "If you pay x every month, we will suspend interest charges and will not turn the debt over to the collectors", and you cannot rely on your hope that they've figured out what you would like the new terms to be. A signature is not necessary, what is necessary is a clear indication that they have agreed to this new payment plan.

  • That helps, thanks. Per my comment on my OP, I've paid off bills with partial payments without any clearly agreed upon terms with the institution in question. As a result, I don't actually know what regulations (if any) there are, and it is helpful to understand that this wouldn't necessarily involve a contract anyway. I suppose it would help to know what the terms of the initial contract are. Presumably something was signed before they saw my wife (the medical service was for her, not actually me), but I doubt I have a copy of that to look at. – conman Jan 14 at 19:33

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