An uninsured family that faces mounting hospital expenses worries about where the money will come from to pay the bills, how much damage their credit report will suffer and whether they will lose their home or other assets. Families in this predicament are not alone. Families without health insurance seldom have the funds to pay hospital bills, according to a 2011 report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Families can try several methods to help with payment of hospital bills.
Hospitals employ financial counselors, sometimes called case managers, who work with uninsured patients and their families to identify ways to help pay hospital bills. Some hospitals adjust the bills so uninsured patients pay lower fees. Financial counselors help patients apply for Medicaid or other public health insurance programs available for low-income individuals and families. Some hospitals offer charitable assistance to needy patients and will reduce or forgive the bills totally based on income and family size.
Patients can contact the billing department or hospital administration to negotiate parts of hospitals bills. Check for billing mistakes. Charges should be reasonable for the service provided. For instance, question a $300 charge for an aspirin. Ask about discounts for which you might qualify, such as a discount for paying the total bill immediately or within 30 days. Michigan’s Holland Hospital offers a 20 percent discount to uninsured patients. Ask if you can pay the insurer’s rate if it is lower than your charge. Meet with hospital financial staff and go over your bill to find areas for negotiation.
Payment plans give you a longer time to pay hospital bills, and they are typically not reported to credit bureaus while you honor the arrangements. Hospitals often allow patients to make interest-free payments on hospital bills. Your hospital might require you to deposit 50 percent of the total bill and make arrangements to pay the balance in 30 days or more. Another payment arrangement might give you two years or more to pay the bill. Even if your account has been sent to a collection agency, you can ask the hospital to take back the account and enter into payment arrangements with you. Unlike other types of collection accounts, medical providers usually retain ownership of accounts sent for collection.
Many charitable foundations offer help paying hospital bills to individuals and families. Some foundations focus on specific illnesses, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease or rare childhood diseases. Some provide local assistance, such as the Arizona Consortium for Children with Chronic Illness. Others operate regionally or nationally. All Children’s Hospital provides links on its website to charitable organizations, such as UnitedHealthCare Children’s Foundation and First Hand Foundation, which help families pay medical bills. Patient advocates in hospitals and patient advocacy organizations, such as Families USA and National Patient Advocate Foundation, provide information about foundations that can help.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Most Uninsured Unable to Pay Hospital Bills According to New HHS Report
- DukeHealth.org: Patient Billing - Billing Assistance and Charity Care
- MSN Money: How to Haggle Over Medical Bills
- Holland Hospital: Patient and Visitor Guide – How to Pay Your Bill
- All Children’s Hospital: Support Links for Parents and Patients
- National Institutes of Health: Financial Assistance Information
Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.