One of the best-kept secrets in the healthcare industry is that there are financial and charitable aid programs available to lighten the staggering financial and emotional burden caused by medical expenses. Believe it or not, that financial aid department can become your best friend. They have the power to make your bills more manageable…consolidate them…discount them…and work out a payment plan at reduced cost. But first, you have to ask…
Lowering your hospital bill
Ask for an itemized medical bill. Often mistakes are made which can erase thousands of dollars from your bill. (Many hospitals don’t audit their bills before they send them or unless a patient inquires.) So, before you begin to talk, make sure you know the exact (and correct) amount of what you owe.
Then, see if there’s a financial counselor at the hospital. Once you know the actual figures — daunting as they are – you can ask about negotiating the charges. Often you can lower the total bill amount – without interest — by setting up a regular payment plan.
Another option is to ask for a discount for paying the bill off in full. Keep in mind, you need to pay it off by a certain time, to be eligible for this arrangement at most institutions.
Remember, the financial counselor or cashier at the hospital is a living, breathing, human being. And although there’s only a certain amount they can do, they really want to help you! They’ll be much more amenable to helping you if you show good faith and if you are really sincere about paying your bill. (No one, not even them, wants a collection agency sniffing around their door!)
But it’s essential that, if you set up a payment plan, you MUST honor it! If you’re going to be late, or have to send only a partial payment, call and explain. In fact, start dealing with one particular person and develop a relationship with him or her. They could become a valuable friend and contact who can help you in the future.
Eliminating your hospital bill
This can take a considerable amount of jumping through hoops, but the time spent is well worth it.
The catch with receiving help from a hospital’s financial aid department is that you have to exhaust all other available resources. First, you must apply for and use any other public medical benefits. If you still have medical bills, then the hospital’s financial aid department will consider your application.
To qualify for 100% elimination of your medical bills, most hospitals require that your annual income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level. You will usually be required to submit proof of income for the 12 months preceding your medical care. (This is how they calculate your “annual” income)
You’ll also be required to list your assets. The financial aid department will want to know whether you have money in savings, checking, a certificate of deposit (CD), Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), trust funds, or equity in real estate that is not your primary residence. Most hospitals will require a statement from your financial institution detailing your assets.
If you don’t have a job or assets, you will need to sign an affidavit indicating this.
Most states have a Charities Fund to pay unexpected medical expenses. It’s for those who slip through the cracks. They have too much money for Medicaid, but can’t pay their bills without insurance. Tell the hospital business office to submit your bill to the State Charities Fund. If they say they’ve never heard of it, or no such fund exists, call your State Representative and make him earn his salary. He can find out for you.
If your income is low, there’s also a federal “magic wand” that can erase some, if not all, of your medical bills.
It’s called the “Hill-Burton” plan. (The hospital will know of this.) Years ago, two men with the last names of Hill and Burton created a bill which assists people with medical expenses, unable to pay them. It’s only for people of limited financial means.
However, if you Google “Hill-Burton Act” or go to http://www.hrsa.gov/gethealthcare/affordable/hillburton/ you’ll find a gold mine of information about who qualifies, which facilities are obligated to provide free or reduced-cost health care and how to apply. The Hill-Burton Hotline is 1-800-638-0742 or 1-800-492-0359 in Maryland.
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