How Can I Get Medical Treatment Without Health Insurance After a Car Accident?
An attorney can help you identify your options to get your medical bills paid
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, your immediate concern is your medical treatment. You may need surgery, medication, follow-up doctor’s visits, medical devices, physical therapy, and other care. Unfortunately, for too many Texans, paying for medical care is a real problem: about one-sixth of Texas residents don’t have health insurance. If you’re in that situation, what can you do?
Texas is a “fault” state for car accidents, so ultimately, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for your medical expenses, up to the applicable policy limit. However, they won’t pay until your case is resolved, and that may be many months away. In other words, you can’t just send your medical bills to the other driver’s insurance company. They expect you to pay up front and get reimbursed later (or not, if your claim is denied).
Meanwhile, you need medical care now. What are your options? An experienced car accident attorney can help.
No-fault coverage for medical expenses: PIP and MedPay insurance in Texas
In Texas, auto insurance companies are required to offer personal injury protection (PIP), which is a type of no-fault insurance that covers medical bills and certain other costs, such as lost income, up to the policy limit. The legal minimum PIP coverage that must be offered is $2,500. Insurance companies may also offer higher limits: $5,000, $10,000, or sometimes even more.
You aren’t required to have PIP to legally operate a vehicle in Texas, but the insurance company is required to offer it to you. If you don’t want it, then you must decline in writing with a signed letter, and the insurance company must keep that letter on file to prove that you declined.
If you are injured in an accident while driving your vehicle, then your PIP insurance will pay for your medical bills and other covered expenses up to the policy limit, regardless of fault. Your household family members, people you authorize to drive your car, and passengers riding in your vehicle are also covered. The policy limit is per person, not per accident, so if you have $5,000 in PIP insurance and four people riding in your car are injured, each injured person can access up to $5,000 in coverage.
Your PIP insurance also covers you if you are injured as a pedestrian or cyclist, or if you are injured as a passenger riding in someone else’s car. In the latter circumstance, you may even be able to stack your PIP coverage and the driver’s PIP coverage, if they have it.
What is medical payments coverage (MedPay) in Texas?
If you decline PIP coverage, then the insurance company may offer medical payments coverage (MedPay) as an alternative. Like PIP, MedPay is a type of no-fault insurance that pays for your medical bills after a car accident. The main difference is that MedPay only covers medical expenses, not lost income or other costs covered by PIP.
There are a few other key differences between PIP and MedPay. First, while the insurance company is legally required to offer at least $2,500 in PIP insurance, there is no legal minimum coverage amount for MedPay – the insurance company can offer $500, $1,000, or any other amount they choose. Second, if you later recover compensation from the at-fault driver, your insurance company generally has the right to be reimbursed for a MedPay claim, whereas they generally cannot be reimbursed for a PIP claim. This can make a significant difference in the amount of money that actually ends up in your pocket at the end of your case.
The advantage of MedPay is that the premium is generally lower compared to PIP since the risk to the insurance company is lower. As with most things, when it comes to insurance, you get what you pay for. We generally recommend carrying PIP instead of MedPay; saving a few dollars on premiums isn’t worth the risk of losing significant coverage if you are injured in a wreck. However, either type of coverage can be used to pay your medical bills after a car accident, even if you don’t have health insurance.
What if you don’t have PIP or MedPay?
If you don’t have PIP or MedPay on your car insurance policy, there are a few steps you can take.
First, remember that car insurance companies are required by Texas law to offer PIP insurance, and it can only be declined in writing. If your insurance company can’t produce the signed letter proving that you declined, then they can be compelled to provide you with the $2,500 legal minimum amount of coverage, even if you haven’t paid premiums for it. A car accident lawyer can assist you in holding the insurance company accountable.
Second, even if you don’t have PIP, it’s possible that you are covered under someone else’s PIP insurance, such as a household family member. If you were injured as a pedestrian, you may even be covered by the PIP insurance of the vehicle that hit you. An experienced car accident attorney can investigate and find all applicable insurance policies to help pay for your medical expenses.
“Treat now, pay later:” car accident claims and letters of protection (LOP)
Again, in Texas, when you’re injured in a car accident, the at-fault driver is ultimately responsible for paying your medical bills. Their bodily injury liability insurance should cover your medical expenses and other costs, up to the policy limit. However, if you need treatment now and your settlement or verdict is still months away, you may be in a situation where you can’t afford your medical bills, especially if you don’t have health insurance and any applicable PIP or MedPay coverage has been exhausted.
Your car accident attorney can sometimes solve this problem by issuing a letter of protection (LOP). An LOP is a written agreement between you/your attorney on one hand, and a medical provider on the other hand, that your medical bills will be paid at a later date; that is, when you receive a settlement or verdict compensating you for your injuries. Think of this as a “treat now, pay later” agreement. Your doctor agrees to treat you now but holds off on billing you for the treatment until your car accident claim is resolved.
Not all doctors will agree to provide treatment based on an LOP, but many will. Your attorney can help you find the right medical providers to care for your injuries and ensure that your rights are protected throughout your treatment process.
If you don’t have health insurance, talk to a car accident lawyer right away
Getting legal advice is always important after a car accident, but that goes double if you don’t have health insurance. Your health comes first, and the last thing you need is to put off medical treatment because you can’t afford to pay. With an experienced attorney on your side, you can explore all possible options to get your medical bills paid so you can receive the treatment you need and start rebuilding your life.
If you’ve been hurt in a car wreck in the Houston area or anywhere in Texas, make sure you know your rights and options. Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer at Smith & Hassler, Attorneys at Law to find out how you can get your medical bills paid and answer any other questions you may have. The consultation is free, and there is no obligation to hire us, just answers about your legal rights.
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