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Step One: Check your eligibility

Figure out where you fit in the federal poverty levels

Hospitals give financial assistance based on the size of your household, your total annual income before taxes, and the federal poverty level.

Households are the people who live together who are responsible for each other’s bills. For example: 

  • Two parents and their two minor children would be a household of four.  
  • Four roommates who live together and pay taxes separately would each be a household of one. 
  • An adult who lives with their parents but files their own taxes and is not claimed as a dependent by the parents would also be a single person household.

 

For more detailed definitions of households, check out these descriptions. 

You can figure out where you fit in the federal poverty levels (FPLs) with this chart:

Number of People in Household100% of FPL150% of FPL200% of FPL300% of FPL400% of FPL
1$13,590$20,385$27,180$40,770$54,360
2$18,310$27,465$36,620$54,930$73,240
3$23,030$34,545$46,060$69,090$92,120
4$27,750$41,625$55,500$83,250$111,000
5$32,470$48,705$64,940$97,410$129,880
6$37,190$55,785$74,380$111,570$148,760
7$41,910$62,865$83,820$125,730$167,640
8$46,630$69,945$93,260$139,890$186,520

additional people*

$4,720$7,080$9,440$14,160$18,880

Notes:

Here are some examples of how to read this chart:

  • A single person who makes $10,000 a year in total income before taxes would be below 100% FPL.
  • A single person who makes $45,000  would be below 400% FPL but above 300% FPL.
  • A family of 4 who makes $50,000 would be below 200% FPL but above 150% FPL.

Find your hospital’s financial assistance policy and application

Now it’s time to find out what your hospital will forgive and what their process is for applying. If your hospital is a non-profit, they are required by the federal government to post their financial assistance policy online.  Some for-profit hospitals also offer financial assistance.

You can find information about your hospital’s policies by typing the name of the hospital and the words “financial assistance” into Google or another internet search engine. 

Most of the time, it will be the first link in the search results!  

Make sure you have found the link for the right hospital as many hospitals have similar names.  

Click on that link and you’ll probably find the hospital’s financial assistance page.   Here are some examples of what those pages look like:

Links to the policy and application should be visible on their website.   You need to find and download two things:

  1. A Financial Assistance Policy or Plain Language Summary
  2. An Application

Read your hospital’s financial assistance policy

Financial assistance policies can look really overwhelming.  That’s ok.  You can do it!  You only need to figure out a few things:

  • What are the income requirements for qualifying?
  • What is the deadline for applying?
  • How do you apply?
  • Who should you call if you have questions?

Remember!  Every hospital has its own policy.  Make sure you are looking at the policy for your specific hospital.

Check for income requirements

Look through the policy for information about income requirements.  You can search for the % sign, the words “Federal Poverty Guidelines,” or “FPL” to find it quickly.  Some hospitals will have a nice chart to make it easy for you.  It might look like this: 

Here is how to read this chart:

  • If you make between 0 and 300% FPL for your family size, you would qualify for 100% forgiveness.  That means your bill of $10,000 would be entirely forgiven and you would owe $0.
  • If you make between 301% and 350% FPL, you would qualify for 75% forgiveness.  That means that a bill of $10,000 would be reduced and you would only owe $2,500.
  • If you make between 351% and 400% FPL, you would qualify for 55% forgiveness.  That means that a bill of $10,000 would be reduced and you would only owe $4,500.

Some hospitals also have additional financial assistance for uninsured patients.  Here is an example:

This means that this hospital will forgive 35% of all bills for uninsured patients no matter how much money they make.

Look up the deadline

Non-profit hospitals are required to give patients 240 days to apply for financial assistance.  That 240 days starts from the day they send the first copy of the bill, not the day that you visit the hospital.  Some hospitals will give more time than that.  

It’s always helpful to know the hospital’s rules so that you can be sure to apply in time.  One easy way to check is to search the policy for “240.”  You might be able to easily find the deadline.

Some hospitals will even forgive older bills.  If you have an older bill, it’s always worth calling the hospital to find out if they will accept a financial assistance application even though the deadline has passed. 

Confirm how to apply

You should be able to find a copy of the financial assistance application on the hospital financial assistance page.  It can be well hidden so look carefully!  You can search for the word “application” to help you find it.

Sometimes, hospitals will not post their application and will instead require you to call and request that a copy be mailed to you. Don’t get discouraged!  It’s worth it to make that request!  

Call for help

If you have questions about the financial assistance rules at your hospital, the best place to start is to call the hospital financial assistance department directly. You’ll almost always find a financial assistance phone number on the financial assistance website or in the financial assistance policy.  This number is sometimes different from the billing office – so make sure you look on the financial assistance page! 

When you call, make sure to ask for the financial assistance department.  Then ask as many questions as you need to so that you have the information you need to complete your application.  You should also be able to find support in other languages when you call.

Frequently asked questions

Often, the answer is yes.  If your bill is at a non-profit hospital and is less than 240 days old, the hospital has to consider your financial assistance application even if they have sent it to collections.  If they approve your financial assistance, it should be pulled from collections and forgiven. If your bill is older than 240, it never hurts to call and ask!

@dollarfor Reply to @missmegan46 ♬ original sound – Dollar For

Sometimes! Some hospitals will refund money that you have already paid if your financial assistance application is approved. Call them and find out!  If they say yes, then you should absolutely try to apply!

Start by reading the policy from your hospital.  They may have specific guidelines for what they forgive for insured patients.  Many hospitals will forgive some or all debt that is not covered by insurance companies.  You can always call to find out as well.

Many for-profit hospitals also offer some sort of financial assistance.  It’s worth checking online to see what they offer or calling to ask.  The hospital gets to make its own rules in that case, so the process of applying might be different from what is described here, but hopefully many of the tips and tools from Dollar For will still be helpful.

Yes, but it’s tricky. Doctors and others who work at hospitals sometimes bill patients separately.  Unfortunately, charity care rules only directly apply to the non-profit hospitals themselves.  Connected practitioners will not automatically forgive your bills if you qualify for hospital charity care. 

The best thing to do in this case is to first get approved for charity care by the hospital.   After you do, give copies of the approval letter to the doctors and other practitioners.  They should adjust your bill to meet what the hospital offered you.  For example, if the hospital forgave 100% of your bill, then they should too.  If the hospital forgave 50%, then they should cut your bill in half to match that decision. 

The charity care rules only apply to non-profit hospitals, so doctor’s offices get to make their own rules.  You’ll have to call the billing department to ask them about their charity care policies.

You Don’t Have To Do This Alone! 

Dollar For can check if you are eligible,  send you tips on applying, or even submit an application to the hospital on your behalf.

Are you already in the process of applying for financial assistance?  Need help with a tricky situation?  Use our contact form to ask questions or get help with your case.

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