Am I Responsible for My Adult Son’s Medical Bills If He’s on My Insurance?

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This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site Credit.com.

Some parents are now keeping their adult children on their health insurance plans, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. That law requires health care plans that offer dependent coverage to make the coverage available until a child reaches the age of 26.

But just because parents are willing to pay for their kid’s health insurance, it doesn’t mean they want to pay for all of their medical expenses. Yet, because the insurance policy is in their name, some parents are getting bills for their kids and are worried that if they don’t take care of them, their credit is at risk.

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For example, one of our readers wrote:

I have a 20-year-old son who does not live with us, is not in college and does not have insurance through his employer. We have continued to keep his insurance coverage on our family policy, “just in case” something would happen. However, he has made three visits to the ER in three months for non-life-threatening emergencies. I have asked him several times to call me first, or go to urgent care instead, but apparently he isn’t listening.

Are my husband and I still responsible for the deductibles at these expensive visits? It just doesn’t seem fair that I am expected to pay these if 1) I haven’t authorized the visit/expense and 2) am not even able to find out what was done. I hate to drop him, but cannot keep paying high-dollar medical bills for non-life-threatening issues.

We’ve written before that parents are usually responsible for their minor children’s medical expenses, even if that child was in the custody of an ex-spouse at the time. We’ve also warned that under some state laws, spouses may be liable for their husband’s or wife’s essential medical bills even if they didn’t sign anything specifically agreeing to that responsibility.

But the medical bills of an adult child? That may be another matter, says lawyer David L. Trueman. “Even though it is dependent coverage, it is separate coverage [and the] primary insured is not a guarantor,” he says, unless they sign a form agreeing to be responsible for bills not covered by insurance.

In other words, just because you keep your adult children on your health insurance doesn’t mean you will have to foot their medical bills.

Trueman also reminds patients to understand how their insurance works. “There are some contracts with in-network providers where they have agreed they will not bill the patient for unpaid expenses (besides co-pays or deductibles),” he explains.

Medical bills can have a significant impact on a consumer’s credit reports and scores. According to a report by industry trade group ACA International, “health care-related debt (from hospitals, physician groups and clinics) is the leading debt category, accounting for nearly 38 percent of all debt collected in the industry.” And medical bills don’t typically appear on credit reports until they are sent to collections, so this type of reporting is almost always negative.

While the newest version of FICO scores will treat medical bills differently, it may be a very long time before that scoring model is widely adopted by lenders.

In the meantime, our reader will want to reach out to any companies that are trying to collect from her. She can send them certified letters explaining that her son is an adult and she is not financially responsible for his bills.

And like anyone who is dealing with medical billing issues, she should check her credit reports (here’s how she can get her credit reports for free) and monitor her credit scores on a regular basis. She can get a free updated credit score each month at Credit.com. If collection accounts do appear on her credit reports, she will want to dispute them right away.

But she’ll also want to have a heart-to-heart with her son and help him understand that he is legally responsible for these debts, and if he doesn’t pay them, he should expect to get collection calls. These unpaid bills could even land him in court if he is sued for the debt. At a minimum, he’ll be dealing with the repercussions on his credit for the next seven years or more. So he should monitor his credit as well.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • grandmaguest

    Perhaps they could set him up with a primary care (or private) doctor. Take him the first time so that he and the doctor can meet and get a base line of his medical history. Then, hopefully he will go there for his issues instead of an emergency room. If he still won’t do this, I would just consider him irresponsible. I would then tell him if he wants mom and dad to carry the coverage he absolutely MUST go to the doctor first, otherwise, he is on his own to find insurance. He could try getting insurance through the health care act.