I am inspired to write about my own recent experience with a private debt collector (a kind of collection agency) by today’s article “Locked Up for Being Poor – How private debt collectors contribute to a cycle of jail, unemployment, and poverty” by Jessica Pishko (in The Atlantic, 25 February 2015). While I was certainly not locked up, it did take over six months and many phone calls to resolve my recent copayment discussion with University of California – San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF). Remarkably, the collection agency is the hero of my story.
I wrote a blog last year “P-Phenylenediamine – Allergy to Hair Dye” in which I mentioned that I was being treated by the medically-excellent UCSF Dermatology Clinic. My debt discussions with UCSF Financial Services started because on my 2 June 2014 visit, the clinic receptionist did not ask for the regular copayment of $15. I sent in the $15 copay on 7 July 2014 as part of the regular UCSF billing cycle. Something went wrong because my payment was not recorded. UCSF kept billing me each month for $15. I phoned them a few times but figured it would sort itself out. By 5 December, when I was still being billed $15 a month for the 2 June copayment, I decided it was easier to pay $15 again than continue to call. Then, I got a letter dated 24 December from Transworld Systems – a collection agency – asking me to pay them the $15 owed to UCSF.
I called UCSF some more and even mailed a letter on 7 January 2015 to UCSF (including copies of both of my cancelled checks for $15) objecting to being asked to pay the $15 copayment for a third time. UCSF Financial Services staff kept telling me that they no record of either my payments or my letter and said I still owed $15. Communications were made more difficult because UCSF only wanted to communicate by fax (not email or paper mail). I send a fax maybe once a year. However, I re-sent the letter by fax. UCSF Financial Services still said they did not receive it.
Fortunately, I also phoned Transworld Systems, told them that the debt had already been paid twice and asked them to help work with UCSF Financial Services. I sent Transworld Systems a copy of the 7 January letter and copies of the two cancelled checks. The Transworld Systems staff were finally able to get UCSF Financial Services to recognize that the debt had been paid – they even said that UCSF would refund my second $15 copay! The refund hasn’t arrived yet but I am just going to let it go.
5 March 2015 update: A check for $15 arrived from UCSF (just the check – no letter – and sent to the wrong address) dated 11 February 2015. Happy to get it.