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Before You Pay Your Hospital Bill, Read This

Have you run up a huge hospital bill that you’re having difficulty paying?

The stress can be overwhelming, especially while you’re recovering from a complicated procedure and feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. 

But you’re not alone…

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports.

You may have already pleaded with your insurance company and battled with debt collectors. But you still can’t get a break.

One resource you might consider is…

Hospital Financial Assistance

As part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), all nonprofit hospitals must offer hospital financial assistance, also known as charity care. It’s optional at for-profit facilities.

The programs offer free or reduced-rates for certain patients. Yet the federal government doesn’t have any clear rules on how much assistance should be provided and who qualifies.

So that gives hospitals a lot of flexibility on what they offer and to whom.

Many base assistance on federal poverty guidelines (FPG). This is a measure of income and family size used by Washington to determine who is eligible for some federal programs. 

Others might have a sliding scale, which eliminates hospital debt for lower-income folks. Or there could simply be a standard amount of forgiveness.

Many hospitals post specifics about their financial assistance program on their website.

For instance, Jupiter Medical Center in Florida gives patients a 100% discount if their income is less than or equal to 200% of the FPG. If income is over 200% but not more than 400% of FPG, they’ll get an 80% discount.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has a sliding scale. If patients have income below 251% of FPG, they’re eligible for 100% assistance. An income between 251% and 400% will get them partial debt forgiveness.

Here in California, USC hospitals grant a 100% discount for patients whose income is less than 200% of FPG. Those with family income between 201% and 350% will be eligible for a sliding scale discount.

Loyola University Medical Center is one of the more generous. The Chicago hospital has discounts for patients with family income as high as 600% of the FPG.

Other Criteria

Besides financial need, eligibility can depend on why you were in the hospital since some procedures, such as cosmetic and dental, might not be covered in your hospital’s program.

Also before requesting hospital financial assistance, you must have used all of any insurance benefits you were entitled to. That includes: insurance from your employer, auto insurance, and workers comp.

Patients with sufficient assets to pay for care are ineligible for financial assistance.

How to Apply

Hospitals have application forms online that you can download, print, and submit. You’ll likely have to include proof of income with pay stubs and tax returns as well as a list of assets, liabilities, and family members.

You have up to 240 days after the initial billing to file your application for assistance.