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Collection Calls to Cell Phones Can Cost More Than They Net

Because of an act passed more than two decades ago (Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991), auto dialers cannot legally call a cell phone without express written permission of the cell phone owner, and if they do it’s a $500 - $1500 fine for each call! And, that applies whether the cell phone is answered or not. This outdated law, still on the books, was enacted to protect consumers back when most incoming cell phone calls carried fees.

Even though today most cell phone users have plans that no longer charge for incoming calls, the law still holds. Recently, aggressive law practices across the country have seized the opportunity to capitalize on this outdated act. They seek to earn high fees by bringing suits that levy large fines on collection companies who use sophisticated telephone technology, including auto dialers and predictive dialers, to contact healthcare self-pay accounts, among others.

The lawsuits may not stop with collection agencies. Healthcare providers that use auto dialers or engage outside revenue cycle management firms that use predictive dialers may have exposure under the law, as well.

What can be done?

Really, the solution is simple. If healthcare providers can acquire express written permission from patients to contact them on their cell phones (prior to or during the admission process), then lawsuits can be avoided.

What this means is that all healthcare forms, paper or electronic, need to include this specific new language:

Phone Authorizations
You hereby grant permission and consent to us, our assignees, and third party collection agents: (1) contacting you by telephone at any telephone number associated with you, including wireless numbers; (2) leaving answering machine and voicemail messages for you, and including in any such messages information required by law (including debt collection laws) and/or regarding amounts owed by you; (3) sending text messages to you or emails using any email addresses you provide; (4) using pre-recorded/artificial voice messages and/or an automatic dialing device (an "autodialer") in connection with any communications made to you or related to your account.

Revenue cycle management firms, like The Outsource Group, will be at a clear disadvantage in recovering owed fees without their clients' obtaining permission to contact patients by cell phone. If RCM firms are sued for using sophisticated predictive dialers to contact patients — which can happen as many as 40+ times per account — they will no longer be able to recover revenue economically, and the loss will be to the hospitals they represent.

* HFMA staff and volunteers determined that the Revenue Cycle Management Suite has met specific criteria developed under the HFMA Peer Review Process. HFMA does not endorse or guarantee the use of these products.