Paying hospital bills is a stressful experience if you don't have health insurance. Five-figure sums are common in the U.S., where medical debt accounts for about half of all personal bankruptcies, reports the Kaiser Foundation. However, hospital bills are negotiable, and various financial help options are available, depending on your circumstances. Whatever route you pursue, plan on putting in a lot of determined effort to tip the scales in your favor.
Apply for Assistance
Contact the billing or patients' account department to arrange financial help. Many hospitals offer charity care programs that can ease your bill. However, you must ask for this help, and follow the institution's rules. Some hospitals require that you apply for Medicaid -- which is for low-income people -- before you can enter their program. Other facilities will ask for financial documents like bank statements, pay stubs and income tax returns to determine your discount, the MoneyUnder30.com website indicates.
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Check Bills Closely
Scrutinize bills for errors, overcharges and above market rates. The Medical Billing Advocates of America estimates that eight in 10 bills contain mistakes. For example, make sure you aren't charged for medications or tests that you never received. Look for billing code errors and duplicate charges. Also, visit sites like Vimo.com to see what hospitals in your area charge for comparable procedures and services. You can also use Medicare rates that the federal government sets in reimbursing senior citizens' care as another benchmark. Either way, you need this information as the starting point in negotiating with the billing department.
Investigate Alternative Charities
Search online for nonprofit organizations that help uninsured patients. By typing in phrases like, "need help paying my hospital bill," you should find a charity in your area to contact. For many example, many Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Methodist organizations offer programs to anyone, regardless of religion. You can also check directories like Guidestar.org, and click the relevant category. Another option is crowdfunding, or setting up a personal fundraising page on websites like GoFundMe.com. Depending on the site, donors can help by making credit card or PayPal, reports Forbes magazine.
Negotiate a Payment Plan
If you're rejected for assistance, or don't meet a program's requirements, ask the patient accounts manager to set up an installment agreement. This option allows you to spread the cost over a longer time, at an affordable rate, without paying the additional interest charges of a conventional loan. You also get an opportunity to show good faith by making timely payments. As the MBAA's summary suggests, this factor can help in convincing the hospital to write off the remaining portion, if you experience further financial difficulties.
Seek Government Assistance
Apply for any federal, state or local programs that could ease your out-of-pocket costs. One of the best-known is Medicare -- for which you may still qualify, even if you're an uninsured senior citizen who doesn't meet its minimum age of 65. For example, the program is also available to people who require permanent kidney dialysis. Once enrolled, you can receive Part A hospital insurance -- at no cost -- or Part B, which requires a monthly premium, the U.S. Social Security Administration states. You can also consult the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration website to determine what programs exist in your area.