Thursday, July 09, 2009

How appropriate!

Exactly two years ago today, on July 9th, 2007, I was at the hospital delivering fraternal twins via c-section. They were in no way related to me genetically, I was a surrogate mother.

This ties in to the drama I'm experiencing right now. I really didn't want to talk about it here, but today I realized that all you readers are a huge untapped resource for advice! I'd be stupid to waste the opportunity.

So here you are: Drama...

The parents of the twins I had two years ago are originally from Ghana, West Africa, but they live in London, England and own their own business.

They and I went through a surrogacy agency, called (then) Third Party Parenting Connections (TPPC), to set up our agreement, which was put into writing by lawyers and made all legal. Yippee. According to our contract, the parents were responsible for all medical bills incurred in the course of the pregnancy. They'd have to pay for anything not covered by my insurance. At the time, my health insurance did NOT cover any infertility treatment, including surrogate pregnancy, so the parents paid cash for everything.

As the pregnancy progressed, I developed gestational diabetes and had to see a specialist at Desert Perinatal Associates (DPA). At my first visit, I told the office staff there that my visits would be cash pay, that my insurance didn't cover them, but I was pooh-poohed and told that they'd already received prior authorization from my insurance. Okay then, whatever, I thought. I did have to fill out the typical paperwork, since I was the patient, stating I accepted financial responsibility, etc. They wouldn't have treated me otherwise.

At every subsequent visit, my portion of the bill (whatever DPA said was my coinsurance) was paid over the phone with a credit card, wielded by a nice lady named Amy who worked for Third Party Parenting Connections. Everything went smoothly, and as I said earlier, I had the babies at full-term, they were healthy, and everyone was happy.

A month or so later, I received a bill from Desert Perinatal Associates for $18,000. Seems my insurance company did, in fact, deny their claims. Since I was the patient who had filled out and signed paperwork, they came after me. I panicked a bit, but then faxed the bill, as I had done many times in the past with every other bill I'd received, to Third Party Parenting Connections.

Then came the collection calls and letters. WTF? Why wasn't it paid?! I forwarded those to TPPC as well. The calls and letters stopped and I heaved a sigh of relief.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I requested my three-in-one credit report, because I was concerned about my low credit score. I knew I'd probably have to co-sign some non-traditional loans for Silver's college, and wanted to find out what was going on and fix it.

I did find several errors in my report, including the collection from DPA, listed under "closed accounts" with a balance of almost $20,000 now! I disputed the collection, explaining that I had never been financially responsible for the charges. Two weeks or so later, I received a letter from the credit agency stating that their investigation revealed that not only was I responsible, the account was in fact still open!

I thought it was just a misunderstanding and called the collection agency involved the very next day to clear it up. BIG MISTAKE, CHRISTINA!!! The bill had in fact never been paid.
Seems I had somehow fallen through the cracks two years ago, and now that the collection agency was aware of me and of the open account, they were going to come after me with a vengeance.

I contacted Third Party Parenting Connections (now called Footsteps to Family), and was told that there was nothing they could do, their account with the parents and myself was closed, and they weren't responsible for anything. Darci, the owner, never returned my phone calls, she told me this in the lone email I got in response to my query. She never conceded that I had indeed faxed the original bill to the office, and Amy no longer worked for the company (coincidence?).

Last Friday I got a lovely letter from the collection agency stating that if the outstanding bill was not paid in full within ten days, a civil lawsuit might be filed against me. Oh, and the balance, due to accrued interest, was now up to $25,000.

The only contact info I have for the parents is a yahoo address that I'm not even sure they still use. I emailed them last Saturday and have gotten no reply. Understand that I'm fully aware that this is in no way their fault.

So. This is the clusterfuck I'm dealing with now. I used the Nevada State Bar Lawyer Referral Service (thanks, Ed!) and got the number of a lawyer who deals with stuff like this, but he hasn't called me back so I guess he's not interested in taking my case.

My office manager at the chiropractor's knows LOTS of local lawyers (go figure!), and she got on the phone and located another very good attorney who deals with contract law, but he wants $2,500 up front. Uh, NO! See, I'm not sure this is even the right way to go. A lawyer will want to go after the parents, but I'm not really interested in that. I honestly don't give a shit if the doctor gets paid. It was his office staff's fucking stupidity that created this mess in the first place. I want the collection agency to back off and I want the collection removed from my credit report.

So now I think I'm going to go to a credit counseling service (which is free) and lay the whole thing in front of them. There has to be a way to fix this. Doesn't the collection agency have to prove that I am indeed responsible? Yes, I signed paperwork, but I never paid a dime at that office, all they have records for are payments made by Amy, over the phone.

Well, my readers, do any of you have any bright ideas? THIS IS NOT A BLEG FOR MONEY, BY THE WAY. I know I put up the donation button, but honestly, I don't see myself shelling out thousands of dollars for an uncertain outcome, especially with the parents being in a foreign country. I'm sure the $2,500 would just be the beginning, and I don't want to go down that road.

I just want advice and ideas; consider this a brainstorming session.

Now you know why I've been so stressed lately, and why my blogging has been so lame. (What? It's ALWAYS lame?! Gee, thanks! ;))

Feel free to comment away. Thank you in advance for your advice, it's greatly appreciated.

25 comments:

Carteach0 said...

I wish I could offer constructive help. The only experience I have like this was a doctor's office that mis-billed the insurance, and then came after me 18 months later. Turns out their contract with my insurance company says they CAN'T bill me, and since they took over a year to realize their billing mistake they were SOL with the insurance company.

Credit counseling services... are 90% scam. There is a way to tell the good ones. Some certification, but I don't recall which. If they want a fee, it's a scam. If they want you to pay them, and they'll pay your creditors.... it's a big time scam. If they swear they'll negotiate down what you owe, for a percentage, that's usually a scam as well.

My only thought.... try the lawyer referral again, and explain the last one referred will not return calls. Get a different one.... although it's a real crap shoot with attorneys. $2500 up front, considering the issue might be solved with a $75 letter... that's bloodsucking.

pajamaverse said...

Another thing to remember is that bill collectors are trying to elicit an emotional response and get you to pay as much as possible, as soon as possible. It's fairly unlikely that they actually *will* sue you in 10 days, and an appropriate response to them would be to tell them that if they think they can convince a jury that a surrogate mother under contract is liable for medical bills incurred for that pregnancy, go right ahead and sue. Just don't let a bill collector pushing your buttons make decisions for you, make sure anything you do isn't at the prodding of someone on the phone who is easily ignored or hung up on... good luck!

I concur with Carteach0 that you'll need a lawyer at some point in this process and unfortunately you'll probably have to sue TPPC to recoup legal fees--though there may be an arbitration clause in your contract. Just pick up the Yellow Pages, call lawyers in your area, and most will at least have a paralegal give you a case consult to discuss options, what the lawyer can do for you, and what the cost to you will be.

Carteach0 said...

Pajamverse is right, and I should have mentioned it too. The collection agency is absolutely sure to do three things.

They will try to scare the crap out of you, when they actually have no teeth at all. Don't forget that... there is almost nothing they can or will really do to you.

The collection agency will harass you as much as possible. They will do it in as mean a manner as they can get away, in hopes you will cough up cash to make them go away.

They will LIE to you. Not one word they say can be taken as truth. If they say it's sunny outside, take your umbrella and have a look. If you deal with them at all, about anything, tell them to put it in writing and mail it to you... and accept nothing else. Agree to nothing, give them nothing, and understand that everything they say is a lie.

When they told you that you owed $25K now? That was to get you to insist it's only $18K, so they have an admission of debt to use against you. THEY LIE.

wizardPC said...

Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey?

I've listened to him almost every day for about the last five years, and these things come up pretty regularly. I'd suggest calling the radio show for a full answer, but here's my take:

Let me start out by saying this totally sucks. It's NOT your fault. It's not fair. But it is what it is. We have to go with what the reality is.

You signed the paper. Technically, you owe the money. If they sue you, they'll win. They won't sue in 10 days. They might sue you in 6 months if you you talk to them but make no payments, 3 months if you cease all contact.

If they continue to threaten you with a lawsuit in XX days, HANG UP. You aren't dealing with intelligent life, and the person you're talking to probably has no say in the lawsuit timetable. They make $12/hour yelling at people all day. Remember that. If they DO sue you, then at least you'll be dealing with someone who's educated.

Your best course of action is to settle with the clinic directly. The specialist in particular might be willing to talk. Do you have any money lying around? I'm pretty sure that you could settle an $18,000 account that's 2 years delinquent for about $6,000. If they resist, remind them that you could file bankruptcy. They would get $0.00 and never be able to go after you again. That usually loosens them up.

Your next move would be to sue Footsteps to Families for the settled amount. I assume you still have the contract paperwork. Take it to a lawyer that works on contigency because prepaying a lawyer is like prepaying a plumber: You have no guarantee he'll do a good job, and he's already got your money.

Your credit is already toast, BUT it's better to have a "settled" account than an "open/delinquent" account. A note on your credit report that you had to be sued is even worse. If you settle, this mess will clean itself up in about 3 years. If you file bankruptcy, which I would not recommend you actually do, that will stay on your credit report for 7 years but will hurt you for much longer than that.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're responsible for the money, no ifs, ands, or butts.
You signed off on the treatment forms accepting responsibility and it nowing being two years past with those folks on another continent, nothing can be done, even legally without huge sums of your money involved. probably more than the original bill in fact.
Now, I can read a credit score and tell you what's going on and if you can co-sign for Silver if you'd like.
If there's only a single medical chargeoff, 99 times out of 100, no banker will give a damn. If that's combined with other issues, then you have a serious problem.

Email me your phone number if you want me to go over it detail and I will.

Dick
BDP

Anonymous said...

All I can say is you need to speak to an attorney. The people here that tell you that you are absolutely responsible or not responsible are probably not attorneys, they are not fully familiar with the terms of the respective agreements, your possible defenses to the claims that the collection agency is making, etc.

There are many things that an attorney knows or can look into (based on his/her experience) to see about getting you out of this on the cheap (or cheap relatively speaking).

It seems that so long as this debt remains open, you will be forced to deal with it in one way or another. I personally would not pay anything or take any other action regarding the creditor or debt collection agency until I talked to an attorney. Under some unforeseen legal doctrine you could, by taking some action, be acknowledging the debt is your personal responsibility, where it otherwise might not be found to be if things were to proceed to a trial. Collection agencies know these traps and will not hesitate to trap you.

Document what you have done and record (notify the other party), if possible, any conversations that you have with debt collection agencies, the original parties, and so on.

Some low cost legal options are as follows. 1) My state bar has free legal clinics for people. Your state bar likely does as well. Although these legal clinics are topic specific (such as family law), you might find one that can help you.

2) My law school had a community legal clinic that helped out the community with legal issues. I don't remember if it was no-cost or low-cost. But you end up getting law students, working under the supervision of attorneys to research and help on legal issues, where the law student is eager to learn and provide service while gaining legal experience. That may be another option for you.

In any event, working through one of these low cost options first could help you to more fully understand what the issues are in your case, what is the likely process that you will have to go through to dispose of this, and what timeline and costs you could expect.

In the end, it would not be worth the collection agency's time and money to sue you over $20+ if the attorney's fees are going to be greater than the amount in dispute. Threat of suit is just that, a threat to get you to pay before they have to incur more costs to collect. If you are sued, don't ignore it - get an attorney. If you ignore it, the agency will get a default judgment and can then judicially enforce that judgment.

Consult with an attorney and get this taken care of before you really need it to be disposed of (e.g., house refi).

Buck said...

I'm late to the party and don't have much to offer other than what's already been said. I agree you need legal representation, and I also agree with what's been said about the collection agency. Screw them; they're the lowest of the low and will lie their asses off (or worse) to get you to pony up.

One more thing: you have my sympathy, Christina. This is an ugly situation, to say the VERY least. It kinda-sorta validates that ol' saying about "no good deed goes unpunished," sad to say.

Roismhaire said...

You've got great input from the comments - I've nothing more to add other than this sucks and I wish I was loaded so that I could help you!

I know there are online forums for surrogate mothers - just wondering if anyone else has been in a similar situation.

Anonymous said...

The parents who live in London, are they anonymous to you? They signed a contract saying they would pay all your medical bills, obviously they are wealthy to do this sort of thing. While it is not be their "fault" as you say, it IS their responsiblity.

Bob S. said...

As one of the low lives out here, a bill collector, specializing in hospital recoveries, my recommendation would be to find an attorney who will offer a free consultation to review your contract with the surrogate agency and the financial responsibility documents you signed with the treating facility. You may also want to check your insurance policy to see if there are any restrictions for billing patients. That mostly has to do with any contractual agreement that may have existed between the treating facility and the insurance carrier.

Bill collectors are people trying to make a living. They will usually try to resolve legitimate disputes. I would recommend that you at least put your dispute in writing. I would also encourage you to keep record of every contact including the time and number of calls. I do realize there are some unscrupulous collectors & agencies out there, so you do need to be careful.

It has been my experience as a bill collector, that the people who don't even try to honor their commitments are the real low lives. In fact I'm quite confident they contribute to the high cost of health care and the downfall of the housing industry.

I'm not sure which state you live in, but you'll need to check your states collection laws concerning garnishment of wages, bank accounts, and attaching property. It helps if you know what the collection agencies can really do.

I would not recommend that you agree to any settlements, make payments or acknowledge the validity of the debit until you determine the validity of all the contracts involved.

Good luck & I hope you find good counsel.

Please feel free to contact me via my husband's email if you have any questions.

bumpfairy said...

What does your contract with your IP's say? Is there an end date? Do you live in a state where surrogacy contracts are upheld? Answer those three questions and you have your answer. If you live in a state where your contract is upheld, and your contract states that they are responsible, forever, for medical bills pertaining to your pregnancy, all you have to do is present that contract in an official court of law and you are safe. If you DON'T live in a surrogacy friendly state, get a lawyer. You recieved the services, you are legally responsible to make sure the services you recieved are paid for. Luck to you, I hope your IP's get back to you and just pay the bill! So sad that you haven't had any contact with them or your surro babies in all this time!!!

Christina LMT said...

Wow. Guys, your response overwhelms me!
I'm thrilled and touched that you'd all take the time not only to read my lengthy saga, but offer insightful and helpful suggestions.

THANK YOU ALL!

Another suggestion I got from a coworker (and another blogger I spoke with today, too) was to go to the media with my story and let the chips fall where they may.

I'll think about this over the weekend and decide which course(s) of action to take. I'll keep you all posted!

Bumpfairy, I'll have to review the contract, it's been quite some time since we made it. (I started this whole odyssey in October of 2005!)

Christmas of 2007 was the last I heard from the IP. Thing is, they're passing off the babies as the mother's natural ones. That's why they want no contact with me. And they don't plan on telling the children until they're 18, either!

Mama-Beans said...

Oh wow, that is so sad!!

So, question for you, I hope this isn't too nosey!! But is that the kind of relationship you wanted with your IP's? Did you know that was their plan from the beginning? If you could do it over again, ( aside from this money issue) would you? I know all surros go into this with a different goal, but what you've described briefly about your situation is my exact description of surrogacy hell; no contact, lying to the children as if surrogacy were shameful, hiding things from friends and family.... I just couldn't do it.

Mama-Beans said...

whoops, sorry, I'm logged in under a different account! mama-beans and BumpFairy are the same person! ( me!)

Christina LMT said...

*lol*, no problem, Bumpfairy/Mama-Beans!

I knew they wanted minimal contact, that was fine to me. I didn't know until the very end about the secrecy and dishonesty to their family/friends. Thing is, in their culture the whole idea of surrogacy, etc. is unheard of, therefore suspect. Also, I woman who can't have children of her own is worthless. Many infertile women commit suicide in Ghana. So I can understand why they're doing what they're doing. Yes, I'd do it all over again, but I'd insist Desert Perinatal Associates treated me as a cash-pay patient!

Diana Kennedy said...

Since it is my first visit at your blog, I think it inappropriate to try to give advice, especially in such a serious issue. So I just wanted to state my sympathy. I think that talking to the hospital AND taking legal actions against the party who was supposed to pay the bills would be best.

I am not even sure if surrogate maternity is legal in my country, so all the related laws are obscure to me. But is it not possible to go to a lawyer with the contract you have and claim your rights?

Christina LMT said...

Diana, welcome!
I hope that's all I need to do. Unfortunately, most lawyers want buckets of money to even see me. Tomorrow (Monday), I'll call various legal clinics here and see if I can get some free advice.

Anonymous said...

Here is my 2 cents:

My GUESS is that the insurance company is not paying because they found out a third party (the parents) are responsible. You might have even innocently given them this information. I believe that is pretty standard. Find out if this is, in fact, the reason why the insurance did not pay.

If so, I would strongly consider getting over your hesitation about trying to get the parents to pay. (My wife agrees with this, by the way). I would first try to contact Footsteps to Family again. Unfortunately, you may find that they only truly represented the parents in this matter, and are simply stonewalling you.

If so, I would do everything I could to contact the parents and blame everything on Third Party Parenting (unfortunately, you may need a lawyer and "Discovery" to get this information) and politely explain the situation. I would say something like, "Unfortunately, insurance does not cover care involving surrogate parenting here in the U.S., and Third Party Parenting apparently did not tell either one of this. I am currently stuck with a $27,000. healthcare bill [maybe even mention the need for universal healthcare in the U.S., just like the U.K. has--just to loosen up the conversation] for the baby, that I thought was covered by insurance, but it is not. (Copy enclosed). I am sorry to ask for it, but I really need your help in clearing this up. I don't know if you want to try to get Third Party Parenting to pay for it, since they didn't do their job in making us both aware of this issue, or what you want to do. All I know is that my healthcare bills were supposed to be taken care of, and I am now stuck with a $27,000 bill. I am hopeful the Doctor's office would take much less, but since this was supposed to be taken care of, I have not had that conversation with the Doctor's office. Please contact me and let me know what you think."

Who knows-Maybe they are rich enough to cut a check and end your pain? If so, I would definitely then contact the doctor's office and try to make sure any resolution results in your credit being cleared up.

And if the parents won't help, maybe you will feel a little less guilty about going after them. My thinking is that they DO owe you the money. Its just that Third Party Parenting/Footsteps to Families should have been more on top of this issue. I am pretty sure most insurance companies won't pay if they know a third party is liable (i.e. a car accident where the other party is at fault, the health insurance company will seek reimbursement from the lawsuit), and they should have known this.--Maybe they did, and just didn't care, if they only represent the parents.

I also think the Doctor's Office will Probably take much less (how often do doctor's offices take 65 cents on the dollar when an insurance company is paying?), and that $7k in interest is B.S. It may (or may not) be legal, but it is B.S. anyhow.

If no one responds, then good luck with the lawyer referral. And yeah, a letter might solve it, but I think you are right about it probably costing more than $2,500 in the long run.
As far as the $2,500 retainer from the first lawyer, keep in mind that he/she doesn't want to take a $200 retainer, spend $2,500 working on your problem, and then be begging for money after your problem is solved. What would be your incentive to pay, after the problem is solved? That would be like sending a baby to England and hoping an $18,000 medical bill gets paid after the fact:)
Unfortunately, although you might be able to squeeze the doctor and/or broker for some money (especially if the paperwork with the broker indicates that they represent YOU), you may end up having to secure a British Barrister.

I hope it works out.

Uhh, sorry, but I gotta say: Only an opinion, and no legal advice has been given. I am not licensed to practice in your jurisdiction, and you should contact a lawyer, licensed in your jurisdiction, regarding this matter.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, 2 more cents:

Although the doctor's office may have some fault for telling you it was pre-approved, proving what they said, as well as proving that what they said was legally sufficient to make you not have to pay your bill, would be difficult, and probably expensive (again, check with a lawyer who knows the laws of your jurisdiction, maybe I am wrong).

However, depending on the laws of your jurisdiction, you may be able to chase Third Party Parenting for Unfair Business Practices for making you believe your healthcare would be covered by the parents, and then doing nothing to make this happen. If they represented you, there may also be other options, but the Consumer Protection Laws/Unfair Business Practices Laws (if there even are any in your state) might apply even if they did not represent you.

In my state, you send them a registered, return receipt letter stating the facts and how it was unfair or deceptive, and state exactly how much money you "demand." In my state, there is no downside to demanding huge amounts (for example, the $27,000, plus all the foreseeable costs of your bad credit, plus whatever you can think of). If you wait 30 days for a response before you sue them, and they don't make a reasonable offer of settlement within 30 days from when they RECEIVED the letter, you can ask for triple damages and attorney fees from the Court, (if you sue on the underlying matter). In my state, the Court can double or triple the damages if they make a specific finding that the actions were unfair or deceptive (but it has to be a little more intentional than negligent). They will usually give attorney fees, but you don't get those if you settle before a trial. In my state, the statute of limitations on this is 4 years, so it is shorter than breach of contract here.

To give you a ballpark: I usually charge $250.00 for such a letter, and cannot guarantee the other side will even respond. I know that sounds like a lot, but with me it is usually 4+ pages and has attachments (medical bills + contract stating medical bill would be paid). It is a lot of work, and almost always involves a few subsequent phone calls. To be honest, I put so much time into such letters that, even at $250, I lose money on them. I only make money if there is lawsuit after. I have to just enjoy the fact that I helped out, if it settles as a result of just the letter. (Did you know that most lawyers LOSE money drafting a Will?--It is the chances that they will get paid to Probate the estate that they are looking for).

I guess what I am saying is, ask a lawyer if your state has Consumer Protection Laws, and if sending one to the broker would be worthwhile. And don't fall out of your chair if the lawyer asks you for $250 to draft and mail such a letter.

Again, no legal advice has been given. I am not licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. You should contact a lawyer, licensed in your jurisdiction, regarding this matter.

Diana Kennedy said...

Yes, that's the big problem, Lawyers want money and a lot! I keep my fingers crossed!

chris said...

go here http://clarkhoward.com/cac/

give the number there a call and have a good talk with them... they will be probably 10X the help that you will find on the internet

Christina LMT said...

All these anony mice helping me! I'm truly amazed. :)

I knew my insurance didn't cover surrogacy, but thought the doctor's office knew more than I did (the fact that they were treating my diabetes...I really didn't know any better.)
All my other bills were paid promptly.
Then, July 1st of 2007, my new insurance went into effect and surrogacy WAS covered, so the delivery was paid for by the new insurance. By this time, I had stopped seeing the doctor at Desert Perinatal Associates, because it wasn't necessary anymore. It's all a huge snafu.

Zelda said...

I'm so sorry. To borrow a cliche, no good deed goes unpunished. I wish I could think of some way to help you, but it seems like a Gordian knot to me. I will say that the two comments of Anonymous seemed to be the best advice so far.

Erica said...

I don't think I've ever commented, but I wanted to on this one, because I had a not too similar, yet related experience. I had a surgery that my insurance denied and I was stuck with about $37,000 that I owed out of pocket. I went to the offices I owed and said what I could pay, which was only about a third of what I owed to all involved. All of them accepted my offer, every one of them. They would rather make a few bucks than be completely out of what they are due. Someone mentioned it before, and I would guess that would be the cheapest way to go, and if they don't accept it, you didn't lose anything.
My sincerest regards.

Christina LMT said...

Thanks, Zelda. I'm sure it will all work out!

Erica, thanks for commenting! I don't have an issue with the money, per se. I know that medical bills can be paid $5.00 at a time, if need be. The issue for me is that I was never responsible for the bill in the first place. That's what aggravates me. I want the collection agency and the doctor's office to back off. Let *them* try to collect from whomever, and leave me alone. That's all I want.