How to Get Help with Medical Bills You Can’t Afford[yoast-breadcrumb]
How to Get Help with Medical Bills You Can’t Afford
Getting sick or injured can be scary enough without having to worry about how your going to pay the medical bills. But there are options out there to help you manage costs–you just have to know where to look. This article will walk you through some strategies to lower your medical bills and find financial assistance if you still can’t afford them.
Review Your Bills Carefully
Before you start looking for help, take some time to carefully review all your medical bills and statements. According to studies, up to 80% of medical bills contain errors–so there’s a good chance you’re being overcharged for something.
Here’s what to look for as you review each bill:
- Services you didn’t receive. Make sure you weren’t billed for any tests, procedures, or medications you don’t remember getting.
- Duplicate charges. Flip through all the pages and make sure you weren’t charged twice for the same thing.
- Incorrect date ranges. Verify the admission and discharge dates are right, especially if you had a long hospital stay.
- Charges that should have been covered. If you have insurance, confirm any services that should have been covered weren’t mistakenly billed to you.
If you find any discrepancies or errors, contact the billing department right away to dispute the charges. Simply ask them to update the bill to fix the error–you’d be surprised how often this works.
Pro Tip: Always document every bill dispute in writing and keep records of who you spoke with. This will protect you if the billing error isn’t fixed the first time.
Negotiate Your Medical Bills
If your medical bills are accurate but still unaffordable, try negotiating with the hospital or provider to reduce the amount you owe. Here are some tips:
- Ask what the lowest rate they accept from insurance companies is. Then request they charge you that negotiated rate instead of the full “list price.”
- Offer to pay it all at once for a discount. Providers often knock off a percentage if you can pay the entire balance in one lump sum.
- Request a payment plan. See if they’ll let you break up the balance into more manageable monthly payments that fit your budget.
- Use hospital financial assistance programs. Most hospitals have programs to reduce or forgive balances for patients under certain income levels. More on this later.
The key is being polite but persistent. Don’t take no for an answer without asking to speak with a supervisor first. Healthcare billing departments are often overworked and understaffed, so you may have to try more than once before connecting with someone who can actually help.
Apply for Financial Assistance Programs
If you’ve reduced your medical bills as much as possible but still can’t afford them, financial assistance is available. Here are some options:
Hospital Financial Assistance
Almost all hospitals have financial assistance programs (sometimes called charity care) to help lower medical bills for patients in need. The income limits, application process, and level of assistance offered varies by hospital.
To find your hospital’s policy, Google “[Hospital Name] financial assistance” or call the billing office and ask. Then submit an application with proof of your income and expenses.
Even if your application is denied the first time, keep trying. Hospitals often reconsider if you can provide additional documentation of your financial hardship.
Medicaid provides free or low-cost health coverage for low-income individuals and families. Depending on your state’s eligibility rules, you may qualify for Medicaid to cover medical bills from the previous three months.
To apply, contact your local Medicaid office or visit healthcare.gov. You’ll need to provide financial records like pay stubs, bank statements, and tax returns.
Medicare Savings Programs
If you have Medicare, applying for a Medicare Savings Program can help pay for Medicare premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copays. To qualify, you must meet certain income and asset limits.
Contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to discuss eligibility and how to apply.
State Social Service Agencies
Your state or county social services department may have special programs to help pay medical bills for residents with low incomes or high medical costs.
To find out what’s available, call 211 from any phone or visit 211.org and search for medical financial assistance in your area.
Pharmaceutical Company Programs
If you’re struggling to pay for prescription medications or medical equipment, the manufacturing companies often have assistance programs to provide discounts or free products to financially eligible applicants.
Search for the name of the drug or device plus “patient assistance” to find details on how to apply. Some examples are Johnson & Johnson Patient Assistance Foundation and Pfizer RxPathways.
If you’ve exhausted all other options, consider creating a medical crowdfunding campaign through a site like GoFundMe. Make sure to clearly explain your financial situation, share documentation, and how the funds will be used.
Reaching out to your community can help raise money to cover medical costs or household expenses while you recover.
Avoid Aggressive Medical Bill Collectors
If unpaid medical bills end up in collections, be aware of your rights when dealing with collectors:
- They cannot harass you or make false statements.
- You have the right to request written proof of the debt.
- You can insist on only being contacted in writing.
- Your wages cannot be garnished without a court order.
Don’t let abusive collectors intimidate you into paying bills you simply can’t afford. Contact a credit counseling agency or legal aid office for help dealing with them.
You can also submit a complaint against a debt collector to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state attorney general’s office.
Consider Declaring Bankruptcy
While bankruptcy damages your credit, it may be an option if your medical debts are so high that you see no other way out. Medical bills are by far the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.
The two types that typically apply to medical debt are Chapter 7 bankruptcy and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Each has pros and cons to consider before filing.
Meet with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss your specific situation and if bankruptcy could help resolve your medical debt. Getting expert advice can ensure you choose the best path forward.
Don’t Lose Hope!
The most important thing is to not give up or let medical bills overwhelm you. Stay organized, know your rights, and take it one step at a time.
With a combination of reviewing your bills for errors, negotiating with providers, assistance programs, payment plans, and sometimes legal help, you can get your medical debt under control.
It can be a long process, but getting clear of medical debt is absolutely possible. Just focus on your health first, and know there are always options to avoid financial disaster.
You’ve got this! Wishing you the very best.