Imagine you have no health insurance. You are just making ends meet with a small amount stashed away in a CD or IRA for retirement over the last 25 years . You have a health emergency and have to go to the hospital. The hospital keeps you for eight hours, does many tests including a cat scan. You are pronounced stable and sent home. You receive a bill in the thousands. It states because you are self pay (no insurance), you can call for financial assistance. You are hopeful to qualify for financial aid and your bill will be covered.
The next step is to fill out the paperwork. Being honest, you tell them of the money you have saved which is under $20,000. You know having to pay the hospital and doctors will put you at the poverty level even with your job. Then you get the call from the financial aid office. Because of the CD, the only financial aid is a 30% self pay discount. The CD was considered available resources and therefore, you did not qualify for financial aid.
The hospital felt they were being very considerate in offering the 30% discount. They now explained payment had to made in full within three months or the bill would go to collections.
I wish I was making this up but I am not. This is a story I deal with more frequently. There seems to be increased restrictions on financial aid. The problem is many people applying just aren’t as honest about resources. The hospitals are becoming more and more inflexible in looking at how bill payment will impact someone’s life. If a person is making slightly above minimum wage and has a small savings, why is it necessary to push them further towards poverty. Why take away hope especially if a reasonable payment plan is an option. Even with the many state guidelines of financial aid, it does not justify the payment policies that most hospitals follow.
What I find the most difficult is the trend for bills to be paid in full within a three to six month period or else interest is added at about 4-5%. The preference is for full payment in 10 days. I know hospitals have to recover their money but they are charging the uninsured at the highest rates and then making impossible demands.
As an advocate, I spend hours reviewing and reducing bills for clients. I am concerned by the narrowing of patients options for payment. People go to the hospital at desperate times and often leave in desperate financial straights. There has to be a middle road for both sides.
A recent client told me after experiencing billing problems.
“I will never go to the hospital again for any reason.”