If a patient is suffering from a traumatic injury that someone else is found liable for, you, the medical provider, are entitled to file a medical lien against the future personal injury settlement.
A medical lien is filed with the County Auditor where the health care services were provided. You must disclose the use of liens as part of your billing and collection practices with the patient. This notice should be included in your initial intake forms for new patients and must be given to all current patients that were not provided with this notice. If you file a lien without giving the patient prior notice of this billing practice then your lien is not enforceable. The law suggests that liens be filed within 20 days of the injury or receipt of medical care but permits providers to file liens after that time frame, so long as the settlement and payments have not yet been made to the patient.
The fee for filing a lien is set by each county and changes yearly, with the average cost being $100 to file. However, the cost continues to increase, so it is a good idea to check with your county’s auditor’s office periodically to confirm the current cost. Checks should be made payable to the county in which you are filing.
Liens can be filed via mail or in-person at the auditor’s office. If you need an immediate copy of your lien marked, “received”, you should either take an extra copy with you or include a copy in the mailed lien with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In King County, if the lien is mailed, your documents will usually be available for viewing on the county’s website within 7-10 business days. Other counties may have a different process on returning the filed copy to you. The original lien will be stamped, “received” and dated by their Records Division and returned to you within two weeks.
In order to increase effectiveness, it is imperative that you send a copy of your lien, stamped by the auditors, to the patient and their attorney. Also, it is important that you send a copy to the patient’s insurance company via Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. That receipt card will serve as proof that the insurance company received notice of your lien.
Enforcing a Lien
If a medical provider hires a third-party billing company to handle the enforcement of the medical liens, that third party billing company must be a licensed debt collector. However, if the medical provider is enforcing the lien on their own behalf then it does not need to meet those requirements. Once the lien is filed and if it goes unpaid, the medical provider, or their assignee, must file a lawsuit against the patient or their health insurance within one year of the file date. If the claim is still pending after eleven months, it is recommended that another lien be filed on the same case to avoid any lapse in your ability to enforce the lien. Due to the time limitation on a medical lien, it is good practice to set up a system to recall the cases on which you have filed liens and periodically check on the status of the case with the insurance company or patient’s attorney’s office.
Once the medical provider accepts payment of an amount due under the lien, the provider has no more than 30 days to prepare and execute a release of lien. The release must be provided to the patient and filed with the county. If you file more than one lien on a case, you must submit a release of lien for every one filed. Not only is it important that a release of lien be filed for your patients, as a lien does affect their credit score and failing to file this form could affect their financial interest, but it is critical for you, as the provider. If the satisfaction of lien is not filed within 30 days of payment, the provider exposes themselves to potential lawsuit by the patient. If the court determines that the provider’s delay in filing is unjustified, then the provider must pay for costs associated with the lawsuit, the patient’s attorney fees, and any other damages the patient is able to establish as a result of the provider’s delay.
Of course, if you have any questions about liens or other matters dealing with insurance or personal injury claims, please feel free to contact our office. One of our attorneys will be happy to answer your questions and address any concerns you may have about the medical lien process.
By choosing to work with the Law Offices of Steven D. Weier to handle your personal injury clients, you are choosing the attention that is vital to your clients’ recovery, and the professional know-how that is crucial to their best possible settlement. Contact us today.