It’s been nearly six months since the coronavirus made its way to the U.S, yet millions are still jobless and facing financial hardship. Paying bills is still a huge challenge for 25% of adults, and one-third have even dipped into their savings or retirement accounts.
Bills are even more daunting for those who contracted the virus or received medical care. While the cost of testing for COVID-19 is free, visits to the emergency room, extended hospital stays and prescription medications can add up quickly. How do patients even begin to pay for these expenses — and why does treatment cost so much?
Hospital Bills Explained
Decades of government regulations and more than 1,300 insurers have complicated hospital billing systems and confused both patients and medical staff. Currently, the U.S. Congress sets hospital payment rates for Medicare patients while state governments set rates for those with Medicaid. Meanwhile, private insurance companies negotiate rates — which vary widely — with hospitals.
Hospitals charge a higher price for patient care because they assume an insurance company or billing department will process claims and cover the cost, at least in part. Additionally, since most hospitals are losing money on Medicare and the uninsured, they must charge more to make up for losses and continue to provide care.
However, many people — especially low-income patients — cannot afford hospital bills. Even if insurance covers part of the cost, some simply don’t have the money to pay the rest. Amid unemployment and a global pandemic, more people are finding themselves in a similar predicament.
Luckily, numerous foundations and organizations are willing and able to help patients pay their medical bills. Here are just a few that can assist you, depending on your situation.
The HealthWell Foundation
The HealthWell Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that helps cover out-of-pocket costs like travel, prescription drugs, pediatric treatment, copayments, deductibles and health insurance premiums. It specializes in offering financial assistance to those with chronic or life-altering diseases like hepatitis C, adrenal insufficiency, ovarian cancer, pulmonary fibrosis and more.
It also has an open fund for COVID-19 insurance premium payment assistance. To qualify for this grant, you must have experienced a layoff or furlough due to the current crisis and have a serious or chronic illness for which you are undergoing active treatment. Furthermore, qualifying patients must have a household income within 500% of the federal poverty level. There’s a maximum award level of $6,000, so applying may be worth your while.
The Patient Access Network Foundation
High out-of-pocket costs can prevent people from seeking the medical help they desperately need. The Patient Access Network Foundation — or PAN Foundation — is helping people gain access to treatment by assisting with these costs. Many of those who receive support are underinsured people with life-threatening chronic illnesses and rare diseases. The foundation provides nearly 70 disease-specific grants as well as a COVID-19 financial support fund.
PAN also offers an instant eligibility program, so you don’t have to wait for critical treatments or medications. Even its COVID-19 fund includes instant support in the amount of $300 to people who have received a positive coronavirus diagnosis or who have quarantined at a doctor’s recommendation. However, there is a waitlist to receive this grant.
United Healthcare Children’s Foundation
The United Healthcare Children’s Foundation’s mission is to improve children’s lives and help families access critical care through medical grants. Its goal is to award 50,000 of them in 2030. This year, it has already awarded 3,553 grants worth roughly $5.2 million.
If your child qualifies for a grant, your family may receive up to $5,000 within a 12-month period. However, you may apply a second time for a lifetime total of $10,000. You must also have continuous commercial health insurance coverage for the duration of the application. Otherwise, UHCCF may close the grant and claim any remaining funds.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the largest nonprofit dedicated to defeating blood cancer once and for all. It’s also the leading source of free education and support for those with blood cancers. From travel assistance programs to patient financial aid, LLS has your back.
The society also offers a copay assistance program that provides financial support for insurance, drugs and insurance premiums. Moreover, its Urgent Need Program can provide eligible patients with financial assistance for rent, mortgage, utilities, child care, food and other treatment aspects. Those that qualify will receive a $500 grant within a one-year period, at the end of which they can reapply for another.
Finding Additional Assistance
The organizations above may help some people overcome medical debt and pay their bills. However, a $1,000 grant won’t make so much as a dent in ongoing expensive and larger debts. In this case, you may have to search for additional assistance. Consider starting a GoFundMe or contacting your local church or religious organization to see if they might set up a fundraiser or simply lend you some money.
You might also speak with your health care provider or hospital directly and ask them if they can lower the cost. While they won’t pay your bills for you like a fundraiser or nonprofit organization, they do have the power to reduce or completely drop them. Explain your financial situation and be straightforward. At the very least, they should be able to offer some sort of payment plan.