Medical credit card agreement requires interest rate transparency

The settlement affects about 7,800 health care professionals who are authorized to sign up patients to use the card.

By — Posted July 16, 2013

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The New York State attorney general’s office in June settled a medical credit card lawsuit with GE Capital Retail Bank and CareCredit, a subsidiary of GE.

The agreement stipulates that no transaction over $1,000 can be charged by patients on the credit card within three days of applying for the card. That step was added to give patients time to reflect on whether they can pay off balances, especially after the introductory period is over, according to the attorney general’s office.

The settlement says patients must be told in detail about interest rates in a clear language disclosure form attached on top of the application packet.

The CareCredit card initially has a low introductory rate. If not paid in full after the promotional period, the interest rate increases to 26%.

CareCredit has authorized about 7,800 health care professionals, including physicians, to accept the card. About 535,000 New Yorkers have been issued one.

How to field requests

As more patients are expected to pay a larger share of their medical care, these credit cards are becoming more prevalent, said Lisa Asbell, RN, president of TrainRX, a medical practice consulting firm in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Although the recent ruling may make some physicians concerned about medical credit cards, they should not shy away from discussing them with patients, especially when patients ask about these cards, Asbell said.

Physicians also can direct patients to their office staff, who should be knowledgeable about how the cards work, she said. Doctors can designate one person who understands the terms of the cards and can discuss options with patients, she added. “Let the office manager talk about the money part,” Asbell said.

Medical debt continues to be a problem for many patients. A report by NerdWallet Health, a division of a price-comparison website NerdWallet, concluded that even the Affordable Care Act is not expected to be a cure-all for patients who have had past problems paying their health care bills. It found that approximately 10 million adults with health insurance coverage are expected to have medical bills that they can’t pay off in 2013.

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