Credit report errors and questionable medical debts drove an increase in consumer complaints among the military community last year, according to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Complaints among servicemembers, veterans, and military families went up 5% in 2021 compared with 2020; of the nearly 43,000 complaints, more than 17,000 involved credit or consumer reporting, and more than 5,000 had to do with medical bills.
Common threads to the complaints from the military community, per the CFPB, included:
- Confusion in medical billing, with breakdowns in the TRICARE billing process for active duty members seeing civilian doctors and within the reserve component as providers “do not bill the correct entity” and “often send the bill directly to the servicemember or straight to a debt collector if it is not paid right away.”
- Problems generated or made worse by frequent military moves, where bills arrive at old addresses or companies attempting to reach out use old contact information.
- Slow or inadequate response by the nationwide credit reporting companies (NCRCs) in their investigations into reporting errors – behavior that can put a servicemembers’ security clearance at risk or add more headaches to a permanent change-of-station.
The CFPB, which oversees federal consumer financial law, recommended “more robust data” be gathered to determine the extent of financial problems caused to servicemembers by medical debt. The bureau also pointed out the need for “adequate systems” in the medical billing community to take care of military-connected patients and for “adequate responses” to servicemember complaints by the NCRCs, but did not provide specific solutions or recommendations.
The bureau did praise the VA’s recent change to debt collection policies, which limits the damage nearly all types of VA-related debt will do to a beneficiary’s credit score. The policy requires the VA to “exhaust all other collection efforts” before reporting the debt to a credit agency, per the CFBP.
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