While everyone understands that the medical bills you incur are part of your damages in your personal injury case, it is not nearly as obvious just how and when you pay those medical bills from your car accident.
The most important thing to know is the auto insurance company does not pay for your medical bills as you go. Medical bills from the car accident are part of the type of damages that you can collect from your tort case, along with lost wages, pain and suffering and any punitive damages.
Only when the tort case gets settled with the auto insurance, does the auto insurance “pay for your medical bills.”
How you go about paying your medical bills before you settle the tort claim with the auto insurance company usually is done one of two ways.
The first way is you treat through your health insurance in more or less the same fashion that you would treat if this injury was not related to an accident. You go to the doctor, and the visit is processed through your health insurance, who pays the doctor a negotiated rate. You then have your personal obligation to some out-of-pocket amount depending on the terms of your health insurance coverage. Presumably you pay this amount as you get your bill.
Now in theory if you can’t even afford that out-of-pocket cost, you can request that the provider hold off collecting that portion until you settle your personal injury claim. Or perhaps if you have med pay coverage on your auto policy, you can use that to pay the doctor.
The second way you treat from a car accident case is through a lien. This means the provider does not go through your health insurance or ask for any up-front money from you. Sometimes this is done out of necessity, because the injured person has no health insurance. Other times, either the provider or the patient want it done this way to avoid going through health insurance.
In exchange, you grant the doctor a “lien” on your settlement for the true cost of the service, not accounting for health insurance discounts. The advantage of this approach is there is no ongoing medical bill you are having to come out of pocket for prior to settling the tort claim with the auto insurance company. The downside is you usually wind up paying more medical bills in the end than if you went through your health insurance.
It is important to note that whether you have or use health insurance is not admissible to a jury as it is a collateral source. Therefore, the jury will get presented with the true cost of the service whether you have health insurance or not. Under Georgia law, it is not proper for them to know or consider if you had any source to pay your medical bills.