Other than dealing with the daily requirements and side effects of cancer treatment, which can be very stressful, handling the financial obligations of your treatment brings its's own stressors. Medical bills seem to never stop coming in. It’s unfortunate that many patients aren’t aware of all of the financial assistance programs that are available to them, and even worse, many patients fail to ask for help until they become financially stressed. If you've been admitted to the hospital or have had to visit the emergency room and you find yourself either uninsured or underinsured, there may be ways to get assistance for those bills through either your hospital's financial assistance program or a charity care program.
In truth, maneuvering our healthcare system isn’t easy. A law that was enacted under the Affordable Healthcare Act requires nonprofit hospitals to make financial assistance available to low-income patients and to also post those policies online. More than half of hospitals in the US are non-profit. In fact, in some states all or nearly all of the hospitals are non-profit. However, sadly many people who qualify for assistance or charity care never apply. There are several reasons for this. Some aren’t aware the assistance exists, others may not have access to a computer to gather information and to fill out and submit required applications. Others may be too proud to ask for help. If you can’t pay the medical bills you may end up in collections or even worse, have a lawsuit filed against you. Becoming familiar with the specific policy at your hospital could be complicated as it is often hard to find.
Most hospital financial assistance programs are income-based using the Federal poverty guidelines to define eligibility. You will need to provide proof of income, paystubs, proof of unemployment, social security award letter and tax returns or documentation from your state's department of social services. Most hospitals have dedicated financial counselors that will help patients through the process. Once you have completed the paperwork- the approval process can take anywhere from two to six weeks.
Consequently, I’ve had some patients tell me they were able to get on the program just through a call and without giving any income information. The truth is, hospitals are happy when you keep in touch with them and try to make payment arrangements. Again, it never hurts to ASK for what assistance is available.
Apply as soon as possible even at the hospital visit if possible, because the clock is ticking on the bill due dates as well as the date it will be turned over to collections. If your bills have already gone to collections, and you think you qualify for charity care- still apply! Even if you have paid all or part of the hospital's bill it is worth applying. If the hospital approves your application, you'll be refunded any money that the charity care covers.
Hospital charity care is free or discounted medically necessary healthcare that many hospitals offer to people who cannot afford to pay for their treatment. It includes both emergency room services as well as inpatient care. Even if you have health insurance, you may qualify for charity care to pay the remaining amount that your insurance will not cover.
Some states have passed laws requiring health care providers to offer charity care. Also, many for-profit hospitals may offer needs-based programs that provide a similar type of assistance. And if they don't offer, ASK!
Be aware that eligibility for charity care can vary widely depending on where you live and the hospital you are treated. Additionally, there may be exclusions in the charity care policies. Some of these exclusions may include doctors providing treatment who aren't hospital employees. This is a common issue experienced after receiving treatment in the Emergency Department, as often those providers are not hospital employees. Consequently, this provider's portion of the bill may not be eligible for charitable care.
Charity care is intended to be used after payments from other sources, such as health insurance or Medicaid, have been applied. Additionally, some providers offer assistance only to those who are uninsured. They may still provide partial assistance to patients with insurance. Some hospitals may see if patients can first be enrolled in a state Medicaid program and if that isn't an option, they'll help direct those individuals to a charity application.
If you have exhausted these options and still need additional financial assistance, look to other organizations that may be able to help with insurance co-pays and premiums. Several organizations offer assistance with these expenses including:
The Medicine Assistance Tool is another resource available to help people find sources of assistance to pay for medication and medical care.
Finally, the Myeloma Crowd by Healthtree's Financial Assistance Resource list includes information on a variety of financial resources, including pharmaceutical assistance information.
The Myeloma Coach program also offers personalized one-on-one support on a variety of resources including financial. Coaches (myeloma patients or caregivers) share not only their personal experience but also resources that help them live fully with myeloma. There are many Myeloma Coaches willing to share their experience dealing with the financial impact of myeloma. If you have myeloma experience to share- consider becoming a Coach today. Sharing your personal experience with myeloma not only encourages others, but it also offers hope.
about the author
Diahanna is the Financial Program Manager for the HealthTree Foundation. She specializes in providing financial help, resources and education for multiple myeloma patients. As a professional financial consultant and former caregiver of her husband who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Diahanna perfectly understands the financial issues facing myeloma patients.