Civic Resources

Got Medical Debt? Here Are Some Tips And Resources To Help

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Over a third of workers in the U.S. today have some kind of medical debt. More than six million people have lost their health insurance since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospital bills are piling up. If your family is in need of financial assistance to help pay for medical expenses, here are some resources and answers to frequently asked questions:

  1. What are my rights as a consumer?
    1. It’s important to know that medical debt expires after a certain period of time, which varies by state. In California for example, the statute of limitations is four years. Debt collections SHOULD not show up on your credit report after seven years.
    2. If you are contacted by a collection agency, always ask for a paper copy of your original invoice by mail.
    3. Hospitals are required to provide you with a breakdown of medical costs. Cases of hospitals charging patients hundreds of dollars for a Band-Aid are well-documented. 
  2. How can I lower my hospital bill?
    1. Ask for an itemized list of every charge. Check your invoice for charges that don’t seem right: duplicates, tests or services that weren’t provided, unreasonably high prices etc. Twitter user @meronbdereje said their $1,800 bill for an emergency room visit was reduced to $20 after they requested an itemized invoice from the  hospital provider. Use the Fair Health online tool to estimate fair costs for medical care and services.
  3. Do hospitals offer financial aid?
    1. It depends. Contact the hospital’s Patient Services or Billing departments
    2. See if you are eligible for Sliding Fee Scale (the amount you pay is determined by how much you earn): at or below 200 percent of the current Federal Poverty Guidelines, which for 2021 is $26,500 for a family of four.
    3. Charity Care: Hospitals do have options for low-income, uninsured and indigent individuals. If it’s not an emergency, go to your hospital’s website and search for “charity care policy” or “financial assistance policy.” To qualify, you will need to provide proof of income and assets, as well as your insurance information (if you have any) including your out-of-pocket costs. To find out more information about the specific requirements, contact your state’s hospital association, insurance department, or speak to a social worker or financial assistance counselor at your local hospital.
  4. Where can I apply for financial assistance?
    1. UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation grants
      * Note: To apply for a grant to cover your child’s medical expenses, the child MUST be enrolled in a health insurance plan, either through your employer or Medicaid / CHIP. Read more here (ingles).
    2. Financial assistance programs may be able to help pay for eye exams, glasses, surgery and prescriptions. Learn more here.
  5. How can I avoid medical debt in the first place?
    1. Free and charitable clinics and pharmacies across the U.S. provide health care access to medically underserved communities. To find a clinic near you, enter your zip code or city and state here.
    2. Community-based health care providers that are operated by the Health Resources & Services Department of the U.S. government (FQHCs) also provide primary care services in underserved areas. There are nearly 1,400 health centers that operate 12,000+ sites and mobile medical vans, providing affordable primary and preventive care on a sliding fee scale to over 28 million patients. For more information, visit: Manual de cumplimiento del Programa para los Centros de Salud
    3. Find FQHC: (ingles)
      1. Type your location (city or zip) in top left box
      2. Click blue magnifying glass button to right of box
      3. Search by number of miles away
      4. List comes up at bottom with addresses
      5. Questions?
        HRSA Contact Center 877-464-4772
        (TTY: 877-897-9910)
        8 a.m.— 8 p.m. ET M—F
  6. How can I apply for health insurance?
    1. Schedule a call with USAgov En Español: You can ask questions and get help enrolling in Medicare or Medicaid
    2. Contact your local state department
      1. FL Medicaid
      2. Texas Medicaid
      3. CA Medicaid
      4. NY Medicaid

Kaley LaQuea is an award–winning print and digital journalist who’s been creating content since 2008. She’s passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with caffeine and two cats: Totoro and Mononoke.