Medical bills can be confusing and overwhelming and often come at a time when you’re already in distress. You might feel like you’re navigating a winding maze of information just to understand what you owe, to whom, and by when. You may feel pushed to pay amounts you can’t afford or don’t owe to protect your credit. Help is available.
Under the Affordable Care Act, nonprofit hospitals are required to offer financial help to people who can’t afford their medical care. This is in return for the tax and other benefits they get from operating as a nonprofit. Financial assistance is an important part of the nonprofit hospital’s commitment to its community. Additionally, some state laws require uncompensated care to be provided by both nonprofit and for-profit hospitals. Although your hospital might post information or give you a document as part of your paperwork, they might not follow up with you, so the information can be easy to miss.
If you’re worried about your ability to pay for your care, tell the hospital! You can bring this up before your treatment, as well as during the billing process.
Steps to ask about charity care or financial assistance for medical bills
- Ask for a copy of the hospital’s Financial Assistance Policy up front, because by law, the policy must explain how to apply for help
- Fill out an application form, if required, and be ready to provide information about your income, including last year’s tax forms or a current pay stub, and your expenses, including your rent or mortgage payment, utilities, credit cards, and other debts
- Ask your provider how long it takes to process your application for financial assistance, how to get answers to questions about the application, and what happens with your bill in the meantime
- Notify any debt collectors that you’re seeking financial assistance for the bill and tell them to pause collections while that process plays out—and if they already reported it on your credit, to show the bill as disputed
- Follow up with your provider about the status of your application as necessary
At first, you might get little or no information about the financial assistance available to you, so you might end up believing you must pay the full amount on your bill. You might not know who to ask or where to get information about financial help. The application might be confusing and the evaluation process for financial assistance might not be clear, either. It might take persistence to get the help you’re entitled to.
Even if your bill is past due and you’re being contacted by a debt collector, you can ask the debt collector to pause collections while you seek financial help through the hospital’s program.
If you're having an issue with debt collection, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
Getting help with medical bills does not jeopardize your status
If you have come to the United States and are not a citizen, you can ask for and receive help with medical bills for you and your family, without fear of negative consequences to your immigration status. If you primarily speak a language other than English, you can ask for the information in your preferred language.
What the law requires
According to IRS requirements, nonprofit hospitals must:
- Put information about the financial assistance policy on their websites, in plain language, along with the application forms
- Make paper copies of the information available at no cost, including in emergency rooms and admissions areas
- Tell the community about the financial assistance policy
- Tell patients about the financial assistance policy
State laws may also impose additional financial assistance requirements on hospitals operating within the area that you received care. Whether you need help affording medical treatment, finding transportation to get to an appointment, or are having trouble paying for prescribed medication, 211 can help you identify available resources. Call 211 from a cell phone or landline to speak to a local specialist today, or .