One of our key themes in this blog is the challenges of medical debt.

As we noted, for example, in our February 21 post, federal regulators have encouraged health care providers and the debt-collection industry to develop clearer standards for the payment and collection of this debt.

Nonetheless, given high health care costs, medical debt remains a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

In this two-part post, we will discuss a related issue: the effect of chaotic medical billing systems on patients’ credit ratings.

Given the complexity of medical billing systems, there are many factors that contribute to the problem.

One factor is that even a routine hospital or clinic visit seems to generate a multiplicity of medical bills. Each medical specialty area has tended to bill separately for its services, resulting in a bewildering accumulation of bills from different providers that relate to the same event.

In addition, there are fewer doctors these days who have their own practices and are able to work out flexible payment terms with patients. Instead, more doctors work for large health care corporations that tend to send out one computer-generated notice after another.

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of medical bills of all, however, is the role of insurance companies. It isn’t always clear what is covered by insurance and what is covered by deductibles or co-pays.

In short, medical patients in Wisconsin and across the country face a confusing medical-billing system that is difficult to comply with – even if you have the money to do so.

Even for people with lifelong histories of paying their bills on time, the prospect of getting “dinged” on credit reports because an unpaid medical bill slipped past them is very real.

Source: The New York Times, “When Health Costs Harm Your Credit,” Elisabeth Rosenthal, March 8, 2014