Lower Income Americans Forced To Pay Expensive Bills As Hospitals Fail To Make Them Aware Of Charity Care Policies
By Consumers For Quality Care, on March 30, 2021
According to NPR, many lower income Americans are paying hospital bills they can’t afford despite qualifying for financial assistance.
Last fall, Divya Singh moved across the world from Mumbai, India, to study physics at Hofstra University in New York.
Her lifelong struggle with panic attacks worsened as she faced isolation amid the pandemic. All the while, her family was struggling to pay tuition. Hofstra warned her she would have to leave her dorm at the end of the term if they couldn’t pay.
Under intense stress, Singh met with a campus psychologist. After mentioning suicidal thoughts, the psychologist insisted on a psychiatric evaluation. She was taken by ambulance to a psychiatric ward and spent a week there. Singh spent most of her time alone, and only had a few therapy sessions.
Following her stay, Singh’s Aetna insurance plan required her to pay a $3,413.20 bill.
What wasn’t obvious to Singh, along with many other low-income patients, is that all nonprofit hospitals must have a financial assistance policy, which greatly reduces or even completely eliminates bills. Though the IRS requires hospitals to “widely publicize” these programs, many are still in the dark.
A previous investigation found that at least 45% of nonprofit hospitals were routinely sending bills to patients, like Singh, who qualify for charity care.
Once the hospital received a press inquiry about Singh’s bill, they dispatched a caseworker who helped her enroll in Medicaid. If her stay is retroactively approved, Singh shouldn’t have to pay anything.
Singh’s story is a reminder that the onus remains on lower income patients to find a hospital’s financial assistance policy. Hospitals generally require proof of your finances, such as pay stubs or unemployment checks.
Though the generosity of the financial assistance program varies among hospitals, many give breaks to middle-class families, such as families of four who earn up to $132,500 a year.