NJP: Getting Help with Medical Debt in Washington State



A video about options for people in Washington State with medical debts.
Produced by the Northwest Justice Project (http://www.nwjustice.org) with help from the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative (http://skcabc.org/)

If you can’t afford your medical debt, you may have some options that can really help like Charity Care, financial counseling, and payment plans.

You might owe a doctor or hospital, or even a collection agency if a doctor or hospital turned the bill over to it. Don’t ignore any bill read it carefully! Make sure you know what the bill is for and what it says you owe. Look for any mistakes on it! Look to see what each charge is for. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask whoever sent you the bill.

If you have Medicaid, Medicare, or private medical insurance, look on the bill to see what your insurance paid. If you do not have Medicaid, you could ask the hospital about helping you apply for Medicaid coverage for a past time period. More information on who qualifies is at http://www.nohla.org.

Even if your insurance paid some of the debt, you may not be able to afford to pay the amount the bill says you owe. Some people qualify for a special program to help pay for hospital bills, called Charity Care. In Washington, state law requires hospitals to give medical care for free or at a lower cost to people who meet income qualifications.

If you have a bill for health care you got at a hospital, ask for an application to find out if you’re eligible for Charity Care.The hospital should give you a written handout that explains how to apply for Charity Care when you’re admitted. If you don’t get an application when you are admitted to the hospital, ask for one. You can apply for Charity Care even after your bill has been turned over to a collection agency or you’ve been sued for the debt. For more detailed information on how to apply for Charity Care, look on http://www.WashingtonLawHelp.org. Charity Care covers hospital care only. It will not cover bills from doctors or others who treat you but who don’t work for a hospital.

People with insurance sometimes get charged less for health care than others who don’t have insurance get charged. If you don’t have insurance you can ask the hospital or doctor to charge you the same rate they charge insured patients or some other amount that is a fair price for the service. Look on http://www.HealthCareBlueBook.com to find out a fair price for the health care you received.

Whether or not you have insurance or can get Charity Care, if you still need help paying the rest of the money the hospital or doctor says you owe, you still have options so don’t pay your medical bills with your credit card before exploring your other options.Trading medical debt for credit card debt with interest, can put you at a high risk of owing more money than you need to and falling behind on your payments. Consider all options available to you, and talk to a financial counselor before paying medical bills with your credit card.

For these and other bills not covered by Charity Care, (or if you can’t get Charity Care), you can ask the hospital or doctor to agree to a payment plan. First, figure out what kind of monthly payment you can afford. One of these non-profit Financial Counseling organizations can help you figure out the best way to handle your debt:
– American Financial Solutions (http://www.myfinancialgoals.org)
– Apprisen (http://www.apprisen.com)
– ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions (http://www.clearpointcreditcounselingsolutions.org)

After you figure out what payment might be best for you, call the doctor or medical billing department to explain your financial situation and offer the payment plan. Medical billing departments know you might have trouble paying your bills. If they agree on a plan, be sure and get a copy of the new plan in writing, and keep up with the lowered payments.

If you don’t pay your medical bills on time, you may get sued. If you think you are being sued, act fast! If you bill has been turned over to collections, talk to a financial counselor before making additional payments. It might be too late for the agency to make you pay the rest of the bill. Look for more detailed information on what to do if you are sued over a debt on http://www.WashingtonLawHelp.org under “Consumer & Debt.”

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This video was produced in September 2012. The laws may have changed since that time. This video provides general information only. Your situation may be very different than those shown in this video. This video is not a substitute for talking to a lawyer about your unique situation. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and it cannot predict or guarantee an outcome in any legal proceedings.

Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative is not offering any legal advice and does not assume legal liability for the content.

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