Sharon Eriksen

Graison Dangor
Financial assistance with medical bills is not just for nonprofit providers

Sharon EriksenYou might already know that Dollar For wipes out medical debt by helping people apply for their hospital’s financial assistance program, something the federal government requires all nonprofit hospitals to have. But you might not know that many for-profit hospitals have similar programs. Whether your medical debt is from nonprofits, for-profits or both, Dollar For can help get them reduced or even eliminated. 

Both of Sharon Eriksen’s medical bills from a biking accident were from for-profit institutions. She was airlifted from California’s Yosemite National Park, where she works as a park ranger, to a nearby hospital. While doctors diagnosed her with a severe concussion and several facial fractures, she fortunately needed no surgery and left the emergency room after just eight hours.

Sharon knew that even without surgery, she would not be spared from expensive medical bills. She had read that air ambulance companies, which are mostly for-profit, charge tens of thousands of dollars. Even knowing that, Sharon was not prepared for the balance she saw. Her bill from PHI Air Medical was $68,100. 

Bills also arrived from providers who had seen Sharon during her short ER visit. It was unclear what the total of all the ER bills would be, but “I knew it was going to be money that I didn’t have,” she said.

As Sharon was searching online for places to help her with debt relief, a friend shared a link to a National Public Radio story about Dollar For. She learned from filling out a short questionnaire on Dollar For’s website that she would likely qualify for financial assistance at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Calif., where she had been airlifted. Staff at DMC had not told Sharon about the hospital’s program at all.

Sharon’s Patient Advocate at Dollar For filled out a copy of the hospital’s charity care application and stayed in touch to make sure the process was advancing. Several months later, Sharon received a letter from the hospital that said nearly her entire bill, except about $3,000, was canceled.

The letter was the first time that Sharon learned what the total cost of her visit had been. Before financial assistance, she would have been stuck with a $160,000 bill for her eight-hour trip to the emergency room — and no health coverage from her employer to offset the cost.

After tackling the hospital bill, Sharon and her advocate turned their attention to the $68,100 air ambulance bill. Sharon sent in her charity care application and, with her advocate’s help, called the company after it failed to respond with a decision. The persistence of Sharon and her advocate ensured that the company did respond with a decision. PHI forgave all of the $68,100 bill for her airlift.

Getting her debt wiped out has removed a huge burden for Sharon. Before her bills were forgiven, she took a second job to help her slowly chip away at what would have been a $228,000 debt. She researched the possibility of medical bankruptcy and gave up hope of ever buying a home. Eliminating the debt has removed a huge burden for Sharon. Instead of paying off a quarter-million-dollar debt, Sharon can use the money from her second job to build a financial future. Best of all, she can continue working as a park ranger, a job she loves.

Before working with Dollar For, “I [felt] so overwhelmed and alone,” Sharon said. With her advocate’s help, getting free of the debt felt possible. 

“Having support from Dollar For made a world of difference,” Sharon said. For anyone facing medical bills of their own, “I want people to know that this is a resource.”


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