Medical bills are one of the biggest financial obstacles facing Americans in the modern age. It’s not unusual for people to file for bankruptcy, sell their homes, and do other life-altering things to satisfy their medical bills. Before escalating to these extremes, you should determine if you qualify for financial assistance for your medical bills.
If you’re wondering how to apply for financial assistance for medical bills, you’ve come to the right place. Financial aid for hospital bills is readily available to anyone with low income or inadequate insurance coverage. These programs are generally available through the hospital. Unfortunately, the rules and criteria can vary from hospital to hospital so it can be challenging to actually obtain financial assistance for hospital bills.
By following the tips and tricks in this article, you should be able to secure some form of financial aid for hospital bills. This article will also explain who to turn to when you need additional assistance with your medical bills.
Types of Financial Assistance for Medical Bills
Financial assistance programs will generally be available to anyone who simply can’t afford to pay their medical bills. There are both government-operated financial assistance programs, as well as private organizations.
Here are some of the most well-known government-operated programs.
- Extra Help
- Health Insurance Marketplace
- Supplemental Security Income
- Charity Care
Here are some of the top private organizations and charities that help people pay expensive medical bills:
- Aunt Bertha
- HealthWell Foundation
- The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
- Patient Access Network Foundation
- The CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation
- Patient Advocate Foundation
- VFW: Veterans of Foreign Wars
- The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
- Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund
Each of these organizations have different eligibility criteria and application processes. You may qualify for financial assistance from one or more organizations, depending on your income level and condition.
Charity Care – Financial Assistance for Hospital Bills
Financial assistance for medical bills is similar to financial aid for any other situation where you can’t afford to pay for something out of pocket. There are a variety of programs designed to ensure that people who are uninsured, underinsured, or of low-income status have access to free or discounted healthcare. When it comes to hospital bills, for example, financial assistance is sometimes referred to as “charity care.”
Eligibility Requirements for Financial Assistance through Charity Care
As we said before, the eligibility and application process for how to get financial assistance for medical bills varies from state to state and program to program. The same holds true for hospitals, depending on which state you’re in. With hospitals, financial eligibility will largely depend on your income, the size of your household, and where they place you concerning the Federal Poverty Level.
While every hospital has different policies, nonprofit hospitals are required by federal law and some state laws to provide a minimum level of free or discounted care for people who need it. They must also widely publicize and display their policies, provide you with a paper copy of their policy as part of the intake or discharge process, and include website links and contact information about the financial assistance program on billing statements.
Most hospitals will provide free or discounted care if your income is within 100% to 500% of the FPL.
Here’s how to determine whether you are eligible for financial assistance:
- If the hospital is for-profit, contact the human resources or customer service department and ask if they have a financial assistance policy. Nonprofit hospitals must have one.
- Check the policy’s eligibility requirements. Eligibility will be determined on a sliding scale based on your income compared to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
- If you believe your household income qualifies you for financial assistance, you’ll need to provide proof of income plus household size.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the hospital if there is a patient advocate or translator available who can help answer any questions you have.
Once again, it’s essential to understand that these rules can vary from hospital to hospital and state to state. The only way to know if you’re eligible for financial aid is to check with your hospital.
How to Secure Financial Assistance through Charity Care:
Once you know whether you are eligible for your hospital’s financial assistance policy, you can start the application process.
Here’s a good idea of what to expect during the application process:
- The application form should be attached to the policy. Fill it out and answer every question honestly to the best of your ability.
- Provide any forms and documents regarding your income and finances, including tax returns, receipts, pay stubs, and more.
- Deliver the form and related documents to the department specified on the form.
- Ask how long the process can take and follow up regularly to check on the status. In general, the whole process can take several weeks if not months.
Once again, because every state has different rules in place for its hospitals and charity care, it’s essential to know the rules for your state.
Charity Care can help save your credit.
Nonprofit hospitals are prohibited from turning your bills over to a debt collector without first trying to determine whether you would be eligible for their financial assistance policies. They must notify you that the policy exists, and give you at least 240 days from the date of discharge to apply. If your hospital bills do end up in collections, notify the debt collector that you have an application for financial assistance pending. Debt collectors aren’t allowed to report your debt to the credit bureau until your financial assistance request gets processed. And if your hospital bills ended up in collections before you had an opportunity to apply for the hospital’s financial assistance program, contact an attorney who handles Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) cases.
How to get help with your Financial Assistance Application
Because of how complicated the financial assistance process can be, it’s common to run into issues. If you need help processing your financial assistance request or application, you should consult one of the following entities.
- Consumer Assistance Programs.
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- State Agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, the state insurance commissioner, or the state insurance department.
- Legal Services from malpractice, medical billing, consumer protection, and personal injury attorneys.
4 Alternative Options to Ease Your Medical Bills
While financial assistance from hospitals, charities, and government organizations is a good option, not everyone will qualify. Therefore, it’s good to have a backup plan if financial assistance isn’t an option.
1. Consider Asking Your Healthcare Provider for a Payment Plan Option
As with mortgages, student loans, and car payments, you can often slowly repay your medical bills. Ask your healthcare provider if they have payment plans where you pay back a certain amount every month rather than paying a large lump sum.
2. See if You Can Get a Reduction on Your Medical Expenses
A common mistake people make with their medical bills is thinking they’re set in stone. You should view your first bill as a starting point for further negotiation. Depending on your income and the treatment you received, there’s a good chance you can negotiate, barter, and appeal your way to a lower medical bill.
3. Understand the Legal Protections Afforded to You as a Patient
Depending on where you received treatment and the size of the bill, patients have other legal protections.
- No Surprises Act
Protects you from surprise fees and charges due to receiving emergency or supplemental care from an out-of-network provider.
- The Affordable Care Act
Requires that ALL non-profit hospitals provide charity care to low-income patients.
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Places restrictions on debt collectors when they’re coming after you for your medical bills.
4. Hire a Medical Billing Advocate
Hiring a medical billing advocate is one of the best things you can do if you have high medical bills. Medical billing advocates can help you understand your medical bills, negotiate them, and form a repayment plan, among many other things.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Get Financial Assistance for Medical Bills?
As you can see, financial assistance for medical bills is readily available, but it can be challenging to attain. This is especially true if you aren’t classified as low-income or in-need. However, no matter who you are or your income status, you should contact a healthcare consultant when you need assistance with medical bills.
Healthcare consultants can help you develop a plan of attack for repaying your medical bills. They can also help you pursue financial aid, dispute your bills, and assist you with health insurance issues. Contact us for a consultation and to find out how we can help you today!