Getting Help with Medical Debt




Getting Help with Medical Debt

Having medical bills can cause fear, worry, and embarrassment. You may begin to lose hope. Unfortunately, ignoring them can lead to bigger problems. Your bills might be turned over to a collection agency. And you might get sued. But if you can’t afford your medical debt, you may have some options that can really help, like charity care, financial counseling, and payment plans. 

When we talk about medical debt, we’re talking about any money owed for healthcare. You might owe a doctor, or hospital, or even a collection agency if a doctor or hospital turned the bill over to it. Don’t ignore any bill. Read it carefully. Make sure you know what the bill is for, and what it says you owe.  Look for any mistakes on it. Look to see what each charge is for. Sometimes the charges will be confusing. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask whoever sent you the bill. 

If you have Medicaid, Medicare, or private medical insurance, look on the bill to see what your insurance paid. If you do not have Medicaid, you could ask the hospital about helping you apply for Medicaid coverage for a past time period. Even if your insurance paid some of th debt, you may not be able to afford to pay the amount the bill says you owe. Keep watching to learn about some of the options you might have to help you pay the rest.

Some people qualify for a special program to help pay for hospital bills, called charity care. State law requires hospitals to give medical care for free or at a lower cost to people who meet income qualifications. If you are getting healthcare in a hospital, or if you have a bill for healthcare you got at a hospital, ask for an application to find out if you are eligible for charity care. The hospital should give you a written handout that explains how to apply for charity care when you are admitted. If you don’t get an application when you are admitted to the hospital, you can ask for an application after that. 

You can apply for charity care even after your bill has been turned over to a collection agency, or you’ve been sued for the debt. When you get the application, fill it out and turn it in by the deadline stated on the application. You will have to prove that your income is low enough to get charity care, so you’ll have to turn in proof, like copies of paystubs, income tax returns, or forms from Medicaid. Make a copy of your documents and application before you send them in, and then follow up with a phone call to make sure the hospital received your charity care application. 

Charity care covers hospital care only. It will not cover bills from doctors or others who treat you but who don’t work for a hospital. People with insurance sometimes get charged less for healthcare than others who don’t have insurance get charged. If you don’t have insurance, you can ask the hospital or a doctor to charge you the same rate they charged insured patients, or some other amount that is a fair price for the service. 

Look on to find out a fair price for the healthcare you received.

Whether or not you have insurance or can get charity care, if you still need help paying the rest of the money the doctor or hospital says you owe, you still have options. So don’t pay your medical bills with your credit card before exploring your other options. Trading medical debt for credit card debt with interest can put you at a high risk of owing more money than you need to and falling behind on your payments. 

Consider all options available to you and talk to a financial counselor before paying medical bills with your credit card. 

For these and other bills not covered by charity care, or if you can’t get charity care, you can ask the hospital or doctor to agree to a payment plan. First, figure out what kind of monthly payment you can afford. One of these nonprofit financial counseling organizations can help you figure out the best way to handle your debt:

  • American Financial Solutions,
  • Apprisen,
  • Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions.

After you figure out what payment might be best for you, call the doctor or medical billing department to explain your financial situation and offer the payment plan. Medical billing departments know you might have trouble paying your bills. If you bill was already sent to a collection agency, the hospital or doctor might be willing to take your account out of collections. If they agree on a plan, be sure and get a copy of the new plan in writing and keep up with the lowered payments. 

If you don’t pay your medical bills on time, you may get sued. If you think you are being sued, act fast! You may be confused about what to do next, but you should not delay. If charity care should have paid for some of your hospital bills, but didn’t, you can bring that up in your defense.

If your bill has been turned over to collections, talk to a financial counselor before making additional payments. It might be too late for the agency to make you pay the rest of the bill. This video was produced in September 2012. The laws may have changed since that time. This video provides general information only. Your situation may be very different than those shown in this video. This video is not a substitute for talking to a lawyer about your unique situation. It does not create an attorney-client relationship, and it cannot predict or guarantee an outcome of any legal proceeding.

Last Review and Update: Jan 28, 2022
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