Credit reporting companies often fail to appropriately respond to requests for investigation from servicemembers, according to an annual Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report on the top financial challenges facing servicemembers, military families and veterans.
The report, based on complaints filed by servicemembers, military families and veterans during the previous 12 months, revealed billing inaccuracies, prolonged investigations, and debt collectors having used “aggressive tactics to recover allegedly unpaid medical bills.”
Of the more than 42,000 complaints submitted to the CFPB last year, more than 60 percent were regarding credit reporting and debt collection. More than half of medical debt collection complaints were from servicemembers who said they did not owe the debt that the credit companies were reporting.
According to the report, servicemembers could be especially at risk from harm caused by coercive credit reporting tactics, because of the possible impact on their military careers, whether from a loss of housing, denial of security clearances, being refused access to relatively affordable health care, or separation from service. “Many of these complaints stemmed from breakdowns in communication between private health care providers and TRICARE, the health insurance program for active-duty military,” the report states.
The CFPB advised medical providers and third-party billing companies to have adequate systems to serve servicemembers, veterans and their families. The agency is also calling on medical providers and nationwide credit reporting companies to consider imitating recent Department of Veterans Affairs changes that require the exhaustion of all other collection efforts and the review of patients’ ability to repay before reporting a medical debt as unpaid.
“The CFPB will use its authorities — including supervision and enforcement — to meet its statutory objectives and ensure that military members and their families receive quality responses to their complaints and do not suffer from unfair debt collection or credit reporting practices,” the report stated.