How to Deal with Medical Debt Caused by Overwhelming Hospital Bills
Written by: Kristy Welsh
Last Updated: July 19, 2017
Hospital bills are the number one reason for filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States. Even if you are not forced to the brink of bankruptcy, you don't have to end up plowed under by excessive medical debt. There are many options and resources available to get help with your hospital bills. Some of these methods will work even if the hospital bill is already in collections.
Note: Keep in mind that medical bills wind up in collections very quickly, and collection agencies handling these accounts usually have good records. Debt validation does not usually work with a medical collections firm. Do everything you can to keep accounts out of collections.
Contact Hospital Financial Assistance
Most hospitals have a financial assistance expert on staff. Sometimes this expert can set you up with a payment plan right at discharge, and so long as you follow the plan the hospital will basically leave you alone. The expert can also offer help with insurance. He can, for example, often set you up with a county or state insurance plan that you've never even heard of. He can sometimes get those plans to retroactively pay the bill, too.
This person is also the gatekeeper for the hospital charity application. If a charity application gets approved then a portion of your bills, maybe even all of your bills, will wind up forgiven.
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Victims of Crime Programs
These programs are only available to those who get injured because of someone else who is committing a crime. Note that you can't have been committing a crime yourself at the time! These programs will pay your hospital bills, but you have to file the claim correctly and in the proper fashion. Ask the police or the hospital for help with contacting the Victim of Crimes department. If your bill is in collections already the agent may be able to get this information to you as well, provided the statute of limitations on filing has not already expired.
If your trip to the hospital is the result of a workman's comp case, you should be prepared for events to slow to a crawl. It takes a lot of time to resolve these cases and a lot of conversations, so make sure you keep all of your case information handy at all times. Many of these cases do wind up at the collection agency before they end up getting paid. Since the collection agency knows the workman's comp insurance provider has bigger pockets than you do, they will typically want to push it with the insurance provider instead. You just need to make sure the bill in question relates, directly, to the workman's comp injury. Be sure you give the agency all of the information they ask for.
There's a hierarchy of responsibility when it comes to automobile accidents, as multiple insurance companies and individuals are typically involved. A lot of "who has to pay what" depends on the circumstances of the accident. Make sure the hospital or collection agency has all of the information they need to resolve the problem. That information includes the contact information and car insurance information for everybody involved in the accident. They will also need your medical insurance information. If any attorneys are involved, the hospital or collection agency will need that information too.
If you can't turn anywhere else, there are several charities that help out with medical bills. Try the Access Project, the CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation, Children's Health Fund, Catholic Charities and Free Medical Camps, just to name a few. There are also charities that target prescriptions, diapers, and other needful things.
Double Check Your Insurance Company
Sometimes, insurance refuses to pay the bills for reasons that are easily fixed. The most common fixable problem is a co-ordination of benefits, where the insurance company believes you might have a second health insurance company. If you do, they need that information so the two insurance companies can decide who has to pay what. Usually a simple fax that outlines your insurance situation will solve the problem. Sometimes it can even be done through an automated system phone call. Some insurance companies ask for co-ordination of benefits information every year as a matter of policy. Make sure you read everything that comes from your medical insurance company to avoid this problem.
Going bankrupt over hospital bills should always be a last resort, after every other option and resource has been exhausted. If you're sick right now, know that the financial troubles can eventually be solved one way or another. Concentrate on healing for now, and worry about the price tag later.