I closed this question the other day:

The doctor didn't charge the health insurance in time, am I liable?

It got reopened. I just wanted to move the discussion of why over here instead of muddying up the comments on the main site.

If you think this question is a good question, can you tell me why?

I don't think it is because there is no way to tell what the correct answer is... There are currently even answers up there that completely disagree (yes, you are liable. No, you are not) and no discernible way to discover who is correct.

I understand that this is a legal question about money (debt in this case) but I don't think the focus of the question is about money at all. It is just about the legality of whether the person owes a bill or not. To me it doesn't seem like the 'experts' of this site are able to answer that question ('experts' on a legal site might be able to).

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    Is it the question title or body that is questionable? What if it was The doctor didn't charge the health insurance in time, how do I deal with the debt?
    – MrChrister
    Feb 2 '11 at 18:22

Money is legal tender. Exchange of money, especially the amounts that matter most, typically happens under a contract:

  • A purchase agreement.
  • A mortgage or loan agreement.
  • An employment contract.
  • Credit card terms and conditions.
  • A service agreement.
  • An insurance policy.

I don't think we can always separate the legal issues out from the money issues!

When we can, we ought to point out that a question has a legal aspect, perhaps even at its heart, but I don't think that justifies closure as off-topic.

Fine print is everywhere when people transact. Helping people understand theirs or their counterparty's obligations under an agreement should be on-topic. Even if we can't answer a question with legal certainty, we can try to point people in the right direction, or relate similar situations that might shed some light on why such-and-such happened. Will there be ambiguity sometimes? Certainly.

What do I think we should do? We should have a disclaimer on the site that answers may not constitute professional legal or financial advice, and that individual professional advice should be sought, especially for the important matters. (I trust something similar would be in order if there were a "Medicine" Stack Exchange site?) There were such disclaimers in the footer of the original SE 1.0 site.

  • I understand, but the heart of the question is in the title, which is "Am I liable?" No one here can actually answer that. We can just all offer our opinions. mbhunter said yes. Korneel said not really. Some others chimed in too. That's a fine exchange, but not necessarily suited to the function of SE. But maybe that's just the problem with a fuzzier topic like personal finance vs. something more science-y like math. Feb 2 '11 at 16:03
  • Maybe we should've edited or encouraged the asker to rephrase the question as "What do you think I should I do about this?" i.e. not soliciting a specific yes/no answer to a legal question? Just not close it. Feb 2 '11 at 16:11

Actually, there is a way to tell what is the the correct answer to the this question. Unfortunately, I'm not a lawyer and insurance is regulated at the state level, so it may vary across the US. I just realized that the question does not mention a location, which would actually be pertinent to a specific answer. However, that is missing the forest for the trees.

Not one person answering the question brought up this issue. Rather, they focused on what I think is the heart of the matter: responsibility and obligation.

Ultimately, I voted to open the question because I saw someone concerned about a debt. Yes, there are legal questions that most of us cannot answer. Yes, there may be conflicting opinions. However there are principles on which we all seem to agree. The answer to the question is basically discussing those principles (responsibility and obligation).

  • Is there an answer you consider "correct" or would you vote up multiple answers? (I think that 'upvoting' on money means 'I agree with you' more than 'this is the correct answer'. It's more like a meta in that way. Who's to say investing in index funds is ACTUALLY the best investment advice?) And my opinion is that 'I agree with you' types of questions are less valuable to making the internet better because they are subjective. Feb 3 '11 at 2:51
  • @michael I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. I have upvoted multiple answers on several sites in the network, even on Stack Overflow. On the more objective sites, there could be multiple correct answers. I consider myself responsible to upvote those that I feel are correct. Within reason, of course. E.g. someone that simply regurgitates an answer that someone else has already posted probably does not deserve the upvote. Even if it was unintentional. That said, there is utility in different phrasings of the same information. This is especially true for the more complicated topics. Feb 3 '11 at 13:35
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    At the risk of getting philosophical, I must point out that the whole voting process is subjective. Also, I can't quite reconcile these two statements: I think that 'upvoting' on money means 'I agree with you' more than 'this is the correct answer'. and my opinion is that 'I agree with you' types of questions are less valuable to making the internet better because they are subjective. Where do we end up if we follow that to its logical conclusion? No more money.se? Bye, bye programmers.se? We cannot avoid all subjectivity. However, there are ways to deal with the problems. Feb 3 '11 at 13:42
  • As an example, the typical advice regarding index funds goes something like this: If you have faith in the economy and the notion that the markets are a valid proxy for economic activity, but you don't have time/will/interest/success at picking stocks then you should simply buy-and-hold some broad index funds. They're cheap. They're diversified. They're probably the best proxy for economic activity you'll get for that amount of time and money. A lot of subjectivity can be swept aside at the risk of complex, and even lawerly, wordings. Feb 3 '11 at 13:52

As the asker of the question I think I should give my perspective. The question was two parts. First, is there legal protection for me if the doctor does not file the claim on time where they were expected to. Second, if there is no protection how do I handle negotiating dealing with the billing people to mitigate my personal losses. Both were answered reasonably well. Yes I have an obligation, and yes I can probably negotiate at least a smaller payment if not getting it dismissed.

We have insurance to protect us against losses. The insurance was under obligation to pay those. Should I get pay the bill and get reimbursed or not? These are all issues of money. Dealing with insurance, how to deal, and when to deal with them is certainly a matter of personal finance.

Excluding legal issues should not happen. Much of financial management is dealing with avoiding taxes. If you exclude everything that deals with taxes there is not much of a site left. Legal issues should be excluded if they do not deal with financial issues at their core.

In summary, I think that an acceptable answer could be conditioned with seek out a lawyers/tax-attorney opinion. That is a legitimate answer and not "off-topic" per se.


The legal question is over money. The answers given put to bed the legal issue quickly and focused much more on solving his new money dilemma. We all knew that even if The Internet didn't think he owed the money, the doctor's office sure did and would send him to collections.

Even answers that were conflicting on the legal status still offered up very direct ways to fix or negotiate an unexpected medical bill.


This seems like a slam dunk… That question most certainly should have been closed.

Simply stated, the issue is not one of "Personal Finance and Money." As an acid test, ask yourself: "If I had this problem, would I go ask a Personal Finance and Money professional?" Certainly not. It's not a question about money; it's not a question about debt; it's not about whether the question is answerable.

It is either a legal question or one asked of an insurance professional… in either case, one in which the targeted professionals of this site are ill-equipped to answer authoritatively.

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    But it is a question about debt. The debt is there cause the Doc wanted money. If it was rewritten to say "how do I handle this unexpected debt" with a legal slant I think it clearly belongs then.
    – MrChrister
    Feb 2 '11 at 18:12
  • I would expect that insurance professionals would be some of the kind of professionals we would hope to attract. They offer financial services to individuals. Feb 2 '11 at 20:24
  • Even if there were insurance professionals on the site, they wouldn't be able to answer the question unless they had HIS insurance company policy. Feb 2 '11 at 22:16
  • @michael Would they not have some idea about the norm for such a situation? (It's certainly not the first time that it has happened to someone.) Could they not provide useful insight based on their experience? Could they not point the OP in the correct direction so that he can determine the right answer? Would that information not be useful to others? Feb 2 '11 at 23:22
  • @Michael Pryor: It's a strawman argument, anyway. Just because insurance companies happen to offer investment opportunities, their financial experts still have no expertise in handing insurance claims. Feb 3 '11 at 0:50

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