Reclaim your health with us! This article discusses medical bills and covers:
- Free resources to help pay your medical bills
- Free support organizations to tackle medical debt
- Free ways to save money on a surprise medical bill
- Tips for getting your medical bill reduced
- Tips for paying your medical bill through interest-free payments
Medical debt can be so overwhelming and stressful that it’s tempting to ignore it and hope that it just goes away. Unfortunately for many of us, it doesn’t--and ignoring it is one of the worst things you can do. Even if your medical bills seem insurmountable (and unfair!), there are actually plenty of resources and little-known tips available that can help you significantly reduce the financial burden. While these tips probably won’t make your bills magically disappear, they can help you find a more manageable way to deal with them and potentially save you some money along the way.
We’ll cover these tips step by step so you can approach your medical bills with confidence and the right knowledge to help you clear them off your plate as efficiently--and as fairly--as possible.
Hospitals and Medical Offices as Resources
Hospitals and other medical providers, including doctors and dentists, offer payment plans to help break up your daunting medical bill into smaller installments. Typically, they offer this option either through their own system, which is often interest-free, or through an agreement with a financial institution. To learn more, call the hospital or provider’s front desk and ask to speak with someone in billing. Once connected, tell them that you’re interested in spreading out your bill payments over time, ideally without interest.
Many institutions also offer a one-time lump sum payment discount. This means that if you agree to pay your bill in full within 30 days, you may be entitled to a one-time 10% discount off the bill total. Ask your medical provider’s office or billing department if this is an option for you.
Lastly, many hospitals offer financial assistance to those who qualify. To determine if this is a viable option for you, they’ll request that you fill out an application and share some of your financial information, including tax returns, paystubs, and bank account balances. This may sound daunting and a little invasive, but all that paperwork might save you quite a bit of money off your final balance. Ask your hospital if they offer financial assistance and how to apply for their program.
If you received treatment at a hospital with a religious affiliation, you may have yet another resource available to you. Hospitals with religious affiliations (look for “Saint” in the name, for example) usually commit to providing a certain amount of charity care each year, with a selection process for which cases they’ll accept to the program. Charity care usually covers essential healthcare services such as emergency room visits and low-income patient clinics, subsidized health services such as burn units, neonatal care, trauma centers, community mental health centers, and ambulance and other transportation services. These programs are designed to assist patients and their families who are considered underinsured, low-income, or otherwise unable to pay for medically necessary treatments. Ask the billing department of your hospital to learn whether or not you qualify.
Drug Companies as Resources
Is your surprise medical bill related to a prescription drug that’s required for your treatment? Believe it or not, your prescribing physician usually doesn’t know how much a drug will cost you. Your doctor doesn’t know what your insurance coverage looks like or how much of your medical budget you’ve already used for the year; they simply recommended the medication they believed was best for your recovery or ongoing treatment.
If you’re uninsured, drug companies frequently offer financial assistance for expensive prescription medications. It’s worth mentioning, though, that even if you qualify for assistance, you should follow up with your prescribing physician to ask if there’s a more affordable medication option in the long-term.
A discount drug program run by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) called the 340B drug pricing program is also in effect, and it can help many patients afford medications they might not otherwise be able to, especially if they don’t have prescription coverage.
Social Workers and Case Workers as Resources
Often, the financial burden starts the moment you’re admitted to the hospital. Social workers can help patients and their families get financial assistance for the cost of lodging, meals, and transportation while receiving medical treatment. If your financial burden continues after being discharged, social workers can help you continue to seek assistance with your bills.
A case worker is a type of social worker who is employed by a nonprofit organization and is responsible for advocating for a particular patient or family. Case workers will often shop around for you on the phone, or know offhand the least expensive places to obtain home medical equipment, rental equipment, or other services. They can also make referrals for in-home care or therapy, and make sure that you meet the requirements for your insurance to pay. Hospital employees cannot legally make choices for you about which companies to use for continued care, but they can give you details on all the choices in your area so you can make an informed decision.
There are many different ways to get in touch with a social worker or case worker. Public Mental Health or Behavioral Health Agencies are often the best place to start. These programs do typically serve people with a history of mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental disabilities. Alternatively, you can get a referral for a social worker through your doctor if they work as part of a hospital or university network, your Home Care program if you belong to one, or your local department of Social Services.
What is a Patient Navigator?
Navigating the healthcare system is, in fact, so difficult that most hospitals now employ people to help do just that! It is important to find out if your healthcare system uses a Patient Navigator, or Patient Liaison. These people are often nurses or social workers that specialize in answering your questions about what comes next and what to expect. They are there for the sole purpose of communicating the care plan to you and answering your questions. Some are specialized, such as for cancer or stroke patients, but most hospitals have someone available for any patient who needs one. Hospitals are also required to provide interpreters for non-English speakers, and accommodations for any disability that affects communication, such as vision or hearing issues.
What is a Patient Advocate?
Each hospital or healthcare system is required to employ a patient advocate, sometimes called a patient experience coordinator, or quality improvement coordinator. Patient advocates do just that, they listen to patient concerns or problems and work to find solutions. The patient advocate can be a valuable resource for situations like dissatisfaction with care, access to care issues, and financial matters such as interpreting bills and charges.
Nonprofit Organizations and Advocacy Groups as Resources
There are many resources catering to patients with specific medical conditions. Organizations such as the American Cancer Society or CancerCare, for example, help eligible families pay for cancer-related costs. Each organization has its own set of financial guidelines and you’ll need to have a confirmed cancer diagnosis for which you’re in active treatment. You can research online or ask your social worker about any programs available for your specific medical needs.
Another helpful organization is The Assistance Fund. The Assistance Fund is dedicated to helping individuals pay for specialty prescription medication. There are two programs, one offering financial assistance with copays, and another to help pay for monthly insurance premiums. As with many of the other options we’ve mentioned above, you’ll need to meet financial criteria based on income and household size. For these particular programs, you also must be insured. You can get help from both programs at the same time if you qualify for both, as long as funds are available.
If you’re seeking help with medical care for a young dependent, there are many organizations specifically catering to sick children. Two of the more well-known ones are St. Jude’s and Ronald McDonald House.
After you’ve cleared this hurdle and tackled these bills, take some time to do some advanced planning for medical expenses so you can avoid surprises like these in the future. The more you know what to expect now, the less stress you’ll have when that next bill comes.