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How to avoid crushing medical bills

BOSTON — More than 50% of all debt sitting with third-party collection agencies is medical debt. Boston 25 News consumer adviser Clark Howard says in many cases that debt could have been forgiven by the provider.

It’s because of something you may not know about it’s called charity care. It’s required by law of non-profit hospitals and many are likely to qualify if you need it.

Rene Coker qualified. Her breast cancer diagnosis is more than a physical burden, like millions of others, it’s also a financial burden. The single mother of a young adult son works for an answering service.

Even after insurance, Rene faces tens of thousands in medical bills. Rene says her stepmother, Katie became her advocate for financial assistance.

“She was just amazing in starting the ball rolling because i just couldn’t think about finances,” Rene said.

After speaking with one provider, Katie was shocked to learn just how much Rene qualified for.

“She said, ‘Well, she qualifies for aid.’ And I said, ‘Well, how much?’ Because I thought maybe it was in graduating scale. And she said 100%. I could have cried,” Katie Coker said.

“It’s an enormous blessing. And without that. I would be homeless. Or die from my cancer,” Rene said.

“People need an advocate in times like this where it’s like, I’m sick. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have the money. Who’s going to help?,” said Jared Walker, founder of the non-profit “Dollar For”.

The organization helps consumers apply for charity care at hospitals.

“There is a federal law that requires nonprofit hospitals to have charity care,” Walker said. “Program requirements vary by hospital and state. We’ve created this database where we wanted to put it all in one place.”

Users enter their income, medical costs and hospital, and Dolar For lets them know if they qualify.

Since 2019 the organization has helped get $44 million in medical debt forgiven!

The average policy will waive your medical bills if you’re at 200 to 250% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Patients have 240 days from the start of treatment to apply, and one year before medical bills can be sent to collections.

One of the biggest makes people make, Clark Howard says, is ignoring the debt. And avoid applying for a medical credit cards or charging up your existing cards. Once you do that you no longer qualify for charity care.

Even if you don’t qualify for full forgiveness, you may qualify for partial forgiveness on a sliding scale. If you don’t qualify for that then negotiate. See how much of a reduction you can get in your bill and ask a lot.

Rene agrees, about being persistent is key to getting financial relief.

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask,” she added.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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