Medical Bills For Wife On My Credit Report

Readers, I could use your expertise with medical bills to help out a fellow reader.  Glen writes in with the following question regarding medical bills for his wife showing on his credit report:

I recently was denied credit and when I looked at my credit report I found that some wage garnishments had made it onto my credit report.

OK here is the kicker.  These bills were not mine but actually my wife’s medical bills. We went through some really hard times with her addiction and mental health issues.  We were close to a divorce so she did not give me permission to see her medical records.  Because of HIPPA laws I am not allowed to even discuss a bill of hers even if I dispute it.

What finally happened was credit agencies started sending her letters, then calls.  Since it’s not in my name I’m not permitted to open the letter or even if I did see it, which I did not because she kept them from me, I was not permitted to discuss it with them.  Since she was dealing with these mental health issues she did nothing about it.  Eventually I was served with a judgment saying they were going to garnish my wages.  Even though I could just pay the bill outright I was not permitted to even set that up because by law I cannot discuss it without her permission.  I can’t even dispute it with the courts because it’s my wife’s medical information.

So in short, by law, the spouse who’s name appears first on the insurance cards is financially responsible for all bills but has no right at all of even know a bill exists in the first place.  We  get to know a bill exists when they start garnishing wages, but even then you can’t call to dispute it.  By then it’s too late anyway.

How can I be reasonably expected to pay a bill I’m not entitled to see, discuss or know of its existence?  I want to dispute this but I’m not sure how because by law I’m told they are my responsibility.

Any advice you can provide would be appreciated.

Glen, that’s a tough situation. First, I’m sorry you and your wife had to go through this experience at all.  I hope she is doing better.  I wasn’t sure from your message whether or not you are still together, or if in fact the divorce was finalized. I’ll answer your question with the assumption that the divorce was finalized and you are now separated.

As far as the medical bills go, it appears from your email that you are more than willing (and able) to pay for the bills.  However, privacy concerns are preventing you from finding out important things like account numbers, payee contact information, etc.

You are correct that as the guarantor on the insurance plan you are ultimately financially responsible for the bill.  I would start by pulling a current copy of your credit report.  Look for any contact information, name of a collection company or attorney, etc.  The second place to look would be the court jurisdiction where the judgment was served.  A clerk there may be able to provide information for the party bringing the claim (probably the folks you need to settle up with).

Finally, and this may be a stretch, your wife (or ex-wife, whatever the case may be), may be willing to contact the medical provider and submit a HIPAA release form.  This would allow you to discuss information regarding her care received by that provider, and the associated outstanding debts.

I did find this related blurb on the web.  It was not from a credible source, but it might give you terminology for discussions with the medical provider or collections firm.

…If the husband is the primary on her insurance, he can be presented with a listing of services the insurance company paid for. However, as the Payer is only entitled to “minimum necessary” PHI and is required to pass on only “minimum necessary”, they can’t really say too much about what happened, and they cannot specifically declare a diagnosis.

It might be time to consult legal advice.  An attorney may be able to help hunt down the judgment records and determine more information about the agency or agencies you owe.  They may also be able to advise you on your rights, responsibilities, etc.

In the interim, you might want to add a consumer statement to your credit file with each of the three major credit bureaus.  It may or may not help in your attempt to acquire new credit for the lender to see an explanation for outstanding judgments.  It would be most helpful if you could make these lenders whole so it would be reported as a “paid” debt.

What other advice can you give Glen?  Would especially love to hear from someone in the medical or collections fields that could give Glen some guidance.


  1. Hmmm…an interesting situation. Another thing to find out is whether or not you live in a common property state. Since my husband and I don’t, our credit reports are separate. While I would still be responsible for his medical bills as the primary on the insurance, other issues would be kept separate. My brother, however, found to his chagrin that his wife’s poor credit is now is poor credit in the state he lives in. I’d find out if there is more than just medical bills going on here as well. You need to know what other issues may find yourself facing.

  2. I had a similiar situation w/ my Dad. This may not appear the same but bear with me. He is on Medicare w/ a supplement. Which means once Medicare & the supplement pays, by LAW, the hospital can NOT bill him for the difference. So, I see he is paying a “bill collection” agency for a hospital bill, WHAT???? So, I fired up the phone, as his daughter, he had to give “verbal” permission to the hospital for them to discuss the specifics with me. Essentially, he has some teeth pulled @ the hospital as his cardiologist would not permit it being done in the office b/c of his pacemaker. Then he was admitted with cardiac complications. I actually diagnosed the arrhythmia on the monitor and alerted the MD!! So, I KNEW why he was admitted. BUT, the “coders”, those individuals that read the records & then code the services for billing purposes saw it as a dental procedure & coded it as such. Medicare does NOT pay for dental procedures…but he was not admitted for a dental procedure but cardiac complications. Bottom line, they waived the balance of the money due. AND, fyi, the “collection” agency was a arm of the hospital under another name who assured me they did NOT report to the credit agencies. It pays to ask questions & know who is billing you & why.

    Back to you situation. If your wife signed any HIPPA waivers in the office that provided care for her, it also covers access to billing for services in that office/institution. So ask to see if they have that on file & ask for the office manager, not the front office staff or receptionist. Second, if it got to the point of being garnished, there should have been billing and/or some form of communication from the billing groups. Sounds like it was a stressful time, but did you or your wife respond to these bills or attempt to work out a payment plan? All or most MD’s or hospitals will work with you on a payment plan as long as you are actively working with them & pay the agreed amount on time. If your wife indicated you were the “responsible” party on the intake form or like you said, are the primary on the insurance, you may be on the hook for the $$. But when it comes to garnishment, they go to whoever has the income & if you wife is not working, then that’s you. If she is working, then they should have garnished her wages. Another thought, you mentioned you were on the verge of divorce…were you legally separated & if so, that separation my support her being liable. I do think pursuing this with all involved prior to retaining a lawyer might save you some $$ & have it resolved. But if they are unwilling to talk with you, is your wife willing to sign a paper for you to have access so they can discuss it with you? The last course would be a lawyer. But if you ignored the bills & did not communicate with them or if your wife is/was not working & you are the sole provider, I’m sorry to say, you may be stuck with the situation.

    All hospitals “write off” a ton of billing under “charity” write offs. The key is being proactive & asking for this. I’m sorry for your situation, but hopefully, this will be resolved & perhaps help someone else.

  3. HIPPAA is probably the worst piece of legislation our Congress ever had a misbegotten idea for. My daughter has mental health issues and I had to order her meds for her to have them delivered to her at college. I could pay her insurance premiums, place the order for the meds, give them instructions on where to mail the meds at her school, have the co-pay billed to my credit/debit card, and it would be an invasion of her privacy for Kaiser to send me the receipt.

    HIPPAA is horrible in so many ways. I suppose I could understand not sharing information with someone who is not paying the bills for the patient. But when you have parents kept from having critical information about their kids, especially when they are in college, which is an age when a lot of mental health problems start to appear, then keeping information from the people who care the most about that person is criminal. Next time you hear about a shooting at a college, remember what I have written here.

  4. I hold the insurance for myself and my husband. I can go to my insurance companies websites (Blue Cross & Delta Dental) and look at all paid and pending claims for myself and my husband. Maybe you could try this to find out who has filed claims and what the amounts are. Good luck.

  5. The person who is the primary covered person on the health plan is the “responsible party” for payment. There are some HIPAA protections in place , however payment information is exempt from protections under the Privacy portion of HIPAA.

    Any collection agency or provider and give you an invoice with generic information that shows the total and payment address. Normally the date of service is also included as well. There is no reason why they would not be able to provide this to you. I often will ask the provider to show me where exactly in the HIPAA regulations it states that they can’t bill me directly (or whatever they are claiming). There is significant misinterpretation of HIPAA in general with individuals attributing policies which are not actually defined in the regulations.

    Furthermore, if it’s gone to collections at this point, the collections agency can absolutely provide you with a bill that you can pay.

  6. Ug, I can feel Glenn’s pain. Hubby and I are fighting with our health care provider over bills for physical therapy that were approved – until the bill came in. They retroactively decided to change their mind. Now we are fighting for them to pay for something they said was included in our plan. SOOOO frustrating.

  7. Garnishment of wages is a court process after a lawsuit has been completed and a judgment entered. You should have received notice of the lawsuit; if you didn’t respond, a default judgment would be entered against you, then and only then could a garnishment happen. The lawsuit is a public record at the courthouse and you can look it up.

    I don’t understand how you could have wage garnishments and not notice them until you looked at your credit report! A wage garnishment means someone is taking part of your wages. Wouldn’t you notice that, even if you didn’t notice getting sued?

    Once a judgment has been entered against you, you might have limited options for re-opening the case (improper service, wrong jurisdiction, etc.) but at that point, a creditor has very little reason to negotiate with you. Even those options have fairly strict time limits, so act soon!

    Get a copy of the papers in the court file and consult an attorney – soon! Most county bar associations offer referral services for free or low cost consultations.

  8. Glen here,

    Just to fill in some blanks. Most of these bills were for mental health and addiction recovery. With the marrage on the rock the wife did not want to allow me to see these. So the bills came in my wife’s name, the collection notices came in my wife’s name, the collection calls came in my wife’s name. Finally, when the Sheriff served me with Garnishment papers I knew something was up. I called the court about the papers and they said these were medical bills for my wife and by HIPPA laws they could not discuss the bills with me. This held true for the hospital and collection agents. In short I was to simply believe there was a bill and I was to just pay them. Numerous I might add. Of course by then (garnishment) it was way late for my credit report. I’m still trying to find a way to address this to the credit agencies.

  9. im confused medical bills in her name her insurance but on my report please explain i live in california