At some point in your life you’re going to have to deal with a hospital bill. Hopefully you’ll have insurance to take care of the bulk of the bill, but whether you do or don’t, there are some options you have that can help you with your bill and possibly even get it taken care of. Of course, you have to be willing to work with the people at the hospital, but at least it can help to relieve some of the tension associated with health care costs.

The first thing to know is that every hospital has a charity care process. Well, let me rephrase that; every “not-for-profit” hospital has a charity care process. If your hospital participates in the Medicare and Medicaid plans, they’re required to have charity care options, and some “for profit” hospitals don’t participate in those plans.

I guess we should start with a quick definition of “not for profit” and “for profit”, just to get them out of the way. Truthfully, the main difference between the two is that any profits made by a “not for profit” hospital goes back into the hospital, while profits at “for profit” hospitals goes to the stock holders, who hopefully allow those profits to be reinvested back into the hospital. Usually “for profit” hospitals are actually part of large systems of hospitals, though there are some independent facilities as well, whereas “not for profit” hospitals will sometimes have affiliations with other hospitals but are independent, with the exception often being large Catholic hospital systems.

Anyway, charity care is used as a way to give free care of some type to those people who qualify for it. It’s based on income, amount of money you owe to the hospital, and the ability to NOT qualify for Medicaid. Most hospitals will try to qualify you for Medicaid if your income is borderline. The process is that you’ll fill out proof of income and be asked to show either the previous year’s tax form if you’re not employed or 3 or 4 pay stubs from every member of the family that presently works; that would actually be the adults in the household, not the children. Depending on the hospital, if you qualify you could have one of these things happen for you:

      * all debts absolved within a certain time period;
      * debts associated with the largest balances absolved
      * a sliding scale discount of absolved debt based on income

If all of your debt isn’t absolved, or if you don’t qualify for a charity care discount, hospitals are always willing to allow you to go on a payment plan. Payment plans are standard, but how they manifest themselves isn’t. Some hospitals will accept very small payments even on large balances over time. Some will require that the amount have the balance paid off within 3 to 6 months, no matter what the outstanding balance is. Something most hospitals probably don’t want you to know is that if you send in at least $20 a month often the staff doesn’t pay attention to the bills, no matter what the balance is, as long as the computer system keeps registering some kind of regular payment within a 30-day period. Thus, if you’re paying every 25 days you might stay under the radar. That’s not a guarantee, but it often works.

A few hospitals will have other plans to help you with your hospital bill, including having companies that will purchase your debt and allow you to treat it as a loan of sorts, so that they can set up payment plans with you along that front, like credit cards of a sort.

The last thing you want to do is to totally ignore your hospital debt. It doesn’t go away, and unlike 20 years ago it will hit your credit report and it doesn’t go away. That plus hospital records will always know if you skipped out on them, and other than emergency care, they can turn you away if you don’t settle up on old debt, or at least have never attempted to address it.

People who work collections at hospitals are some of the nicest people around, and they really are trying to help you. Give them a call if you need help.

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