Q. My daughter is 20 years old and she has some medical bills in her name from a hospital stay. She’s been out of work. We’ve called the hospital and we’ve filled out forms to have the debt forgiven. One bill was forgiven and another was sent to collections and there are others. What can we do? — Mom
A. We hope your daughter is healthy.
Medical bills can add up quickly and it is good to know that you have been able to get some financial relief.
All non-profit hospitals are required by federal law to offer financial assistance programs and they must provide information that can help you apply for help, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.
You may have taken advantage of this resource given that your daughter’s income could have made her eligible, she said.
Other hospitals may also offer financial assistance programs, so you should follow up about the bill that’s gone into collections. You may be able to negotiate the bills down to a lower level, set up a payment plan or receive debt forgiveness, she said.
“It is always extremely important to review all of the medical bills to be sure the charges are correct and accurately reflect the care that your daughter received,” she said. “Hospitals make mistakes and you should be sure you are not paying for them.”
We’re not sure if your daughter had insurance, but those who do not may be charged the full amount for the cost of a procedure or service, Mitt said. This is known as the “chargemaster” rate.
“However, insurance companies negotiate lower fees for these same services,” Mott said. “It may be possible to have the billed charges lowered if you go back to the hospital and ask to know what the difference is between the two rates and discuss the financial hardship that your daughter is in meeting the outstanding bills.”
Mott said with the debt that has gone into collection, you will now have to deal with the agency that has been contacting you.
“It is possible to negotiate a reduction in the outstanding debt, but you will want to have information regarding your daughter’s income and expenses in order to explain the hardship this is causing,” she said.
You may want to reach out to the National Foundation of Credit Counselling at (800) 388-2227 for help, she said.
“Regardless of what options you choose to take in seeking a reduction of the outstanding medical bills, be persistent, use written documentation when possible and keep records of all conversations and when they took place,” Mott said.
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Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.