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Man gets $224 medical bill 7 years later: Money Matters





Q: Here’s one I’ve never seen before. No, it’s not a bill that I didn’t pay when due.I’ve just received a first bill for anesthesia for an endoscopy — done in 2011.

It says that the insurance company paid $896 in March 2012, and that I owe another $224. I don’t even know who my insurance company was in 2011!

We’re pulling boxes to see if we can find old insurance statements. And if I owe it, of course I’ll pay it. But, really? An initial bill seven years after the treatment?

T.B., Cortland

A: I thought getting bills from MetroHealth six months to a year after the date of service was bad. Seven years? Wow.

Initially, I was hoping I could tell you that this would fall outside the statute of limitations, which is six years for many kinds of bills in Ohio.

But that generally wouldn’t apply to most medical bills, according to Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio attorney general’s office.

If the bill is from a private doctor’s practice or a private hospital, Tierney said, there’s a good chance you would have signed something or agreed to something in the terms of service, so there would be no statute of limitations.

And if the bill is from a public hospital, such as one affiliated with a university, then the statute of limitations for collecting a debt would be 40 years, Tierney said.

None of this means you should just whip out your checkbook and fork over $224 without questioning it. You need to see the insurance company’s explanation of benefits for this date of service. That will determine whether you truly owe anything.

Healthcare providers send bills all of the time that try to charge for more than the consumer is contractually obligated to pay. You only owe the amount that the insurance company says you owe after it has determined the allowed charges and the amount of any deductible or co-insurance you owe.

I’d recommend contacting the provider and asking what health insurance company paid the $896. Then I’d recommend contacting that insurance company for the explanation of benefits for that date of service with that provider. Don’t feel pressured to resolve this in a few weeks or even a few months.

First, medical debts can’t hurt your credit score the same way they could previously. As of last year, the three major credit bureaus must wait 180 days before adding an unpaid medical bill to your credit file, where it can lower your credit score. This gives consumers time to get questions answered or work out a payment plan for large bills. In the past, medical providers often sent bills to collection agencies quickly, before a consumer could dispute the charges, wait for the claim to be processed or resolve issues with their insurance company.

Second, it took this provider seven years to send you a bill. Clearly, they weren’t in a big hurry to get their money. They can just chill out and wait awhile so you can figure out whether you truly owe this.

Murray is The Plain Dealer’s personal finance writer. Because of the volume of requests, she cannot help everyone who contacts her.
To reach her:
On Facebook: MurrayMoneyMatters

On Twitter: @teresamurray 
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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained





(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud





(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money





(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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