When You Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills

If you've recently been in the hospital, you may feel overwhelmed by the staggering amount of medical bills for co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles that you owe after your health insurance pays its part.

This is a common situation, according to Nicholas Newsad, MHSA, author of The Medical Bill Survival Guide: Easy, Effective Strategies for People Experiencing Financial Hardship. He wrote the book while working as an administrator at a surgical center, where he discovered that many people had medical bills that totaled more than they could afford, and they didn't know where to turn for help.

Tips for Medical Bill Assistance

Here is an overview of Newsad's tips for accessing hospital financial assistance:

1. Call the hospital billing department and tell them you're having trouble paying what you owe. Be honest about your situation. The billing representative can help you explore options for medical bill assistance.

2. Ask the hospital to set up a payment plan that will allow you to make partial payments over an extended period of time. Newsad points out that most hospitals won't charge interest, so this can be a much better deal than paying the balance on your credit card.

3. Find out what type of financial aid the hospital offers and what the requirements are to qualify. Newsad says that since many hospitals are run by religious organizations or have not-for-profit status, they will have assistance available for those who meet specified criteria.

4. Research the hospital's policy on financial hardship. You can often find this on the website in the financial section or registered with your state.  "There's a rule of thumb in the industry that if the patient has to pay more than 25 percent of his or her gross annual revenue, it's unreasonable," Newsad explains. Therefore, if you can prove through pay stubs and tax returns that you are spending above this range, the hospital may waive the difference.

5. Ask about a sliding scale discount to help with medical bills. If your income is less than two times the federal poverty level, most hospitals will adjust the bill or waive it entirely.

6. Go over the bills carefully to make sure that all of the charges seem fair. If something seems out of line, don't be afraid to ask questions and request that the hospital double check the amount to make sure that it meets industry standards.

7. Don't avoid the hospital bills even if you can't pay. If you ignore attempts to collect on them, Newsad warns that they will get passed on to a collection agency. This can ultimately affect your credit score and may result in getting your wages garnished until your debt has been paid.

When All Else Fails

If you're already receiving calls from a collections agency to collect an unpaid medical debt, Newsad offers the following advice: "I recommend that you call the hospital and apologize. Tell them you've made a mistake, but you want to settle with them." Most of the time they will be willing to work with you directly to come up with a settlement that you both can live with.

Another Way to Minimize Costs

Beyond the hospital bills, you can also try to minimize your overall health care costs. One way to do this is by registering with QualityHealth.com to get a special prescription savings card that enables you to buy prescription drugs at a reduced price. Go to https://www.qualityhealth.com/rxcard for more information online.

Nicholas Newsad, MHSA, reviewed this article.




Nicholas Newsad, MHSA. "The Medical Bill Survival Guide: Easy, Effective Strategies for People Experiencing Financial Hardship." 2010. Phone interview 5 Dec. 2012.

Answers.usa.gov. "Help with Medical Bills." N.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.