Hospitals Now Putting Kids Into Collections For Unpaid Medical Bills?

A young child received a medical bill, and initially, the billing agency refused to talk to the mother because the bill was not in her name; after much back and forth, the issue was resolved.

By Wendy Hernandez | Published


Imagine a world where a child as young as four can be held responsible for unpaid medical bills. It’s hard to fathom, but unfortunately, it’s a reality that some families face. The situation becomes even more distressing when the innocent child’s information is sent to collections due to a billing issue. Yet, this is precisely what happened to young Keeling McLin.

According to NPR, Dr. Sara McLin took her son, Keeling, to HCA Florida Lutz, an in-network emergency room near their home, on Memorial Day to treat second and third-degree hand burns. After inspecting Keeling, an ER doctor told her that her son’s burns required more advanced treatment than the institution could provide, so she sent the duo to HCA Florida Blake Hospital, roughly a 90-minute drive away. 

Despite the ER doctor’s assurance that there would be no charge for the visit, as no treatment was provided, Dr. McLin, a dentist, later received a surprise charge of roughly $129 addressed to the parents of Keeling McLin. 

Upon receiving this bill, Keeling called her insurer, UnitedHealthcare, and a representative told her not to pay the invoice from Envision’s doctor, who was out-of-network but worked at an in-network emergency room. 

Not long after, McLin got another charge from HCA Florida Trinity Hospital for its Lutz stand-alone ER and chose to contest it. Unfortunately, the billing department refused to address the matter with her because the statement was in the name of her young son. 

In contrast to Envision, which billed their insurance and Keeling’s parents, the hospital classified the youngster as “unemployed and uninsured.” It provided his date of birth and doctor’s notes mentioning his age. McLin wrote to HCA in November, seeking to challenge the charge, and was assured that the debt would be suspended until the disagreement was resolved.

Then, in January, Medicredit, an HCA subsidiary and collection agency, informed her that her young son owed $129 and had until mid-February to challenge the amount or it would be sent to collections.

Fortunately, Keeling’s tale has a reasonable conclusion that didn’t result in collections. NPR claims in their article that when the media contacted the healthcare provider who had to pay the bill, they cleared the family’s debt and apologized for the inconvenience. While McLin was relieved with the outcome, she believes patients shouldn’t have to fight to fix billing errors before they are sent to collections and harm their credit.

“It’s the principle of the thing that’s annoying me at this point,” she said.

Indeed,this tale exposes an issue that is all too common in the healthcare system: medical billing mistakes.

As Francois-François de Brantes, a home health business leader and expert on how money moves through the healthcare system, points out, hospital billing mistakes are prevalent. But this case is confusing because the hospital filed a legal claim in the name of a dependent child, putting Keeling’s financial future in peril by sending the bill to collections.

So, what can we take away from Keeling’s story? 

First and foremost, ensure that your name is stated as the responsible party when seeking medical treatment for a child. Second, document all encounters with debt collectors and acquire formal guarantees. Lastly, if you find yourself in a similar scenario, request that the collections agency delete all debt documentation against the child to protect their financial future.