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Research suggests cancer survivors carry greater burdens: medical bills/debt

New research from the American Cancer society suggests cancer survivors carry greater financial burdens related to medical bills and debt.

Doctors found privately-insured survivors enrolled in high deductible plans without health savings accounts were hardest hit, especially younger patients under 49 years old.

If You Have Problems Paying a Medical Bill

Sometimes during a serious illness, people find it hard to pay their medical bills on time. Many hospitals and agencies are willing to work with them to help resolve this.

Don’t pay any bill until you have the final Explanation of Benefits (EOB) form from your insurance company. (If you’re covered under 2 plans, wait until you have the EOB from both of them.) Call the department that sent the bill if there’s a difference between your bill and the Explanation of Benefits. Be persistent about this.

Pay attention to notices that say the bill will soon be turned over to a collection agency. Most people want to avoid this if at all possible. It affects their credit rating, and some agencies can be aggressive in their efforts to collect

If you have health insurance

  • Explain the problem to the hospital or clinic financial counselor or the doctor’s office secretary.
  • Work out a payment delay or an extended payment plan.
  • Talk with the team social worker about sources of short-term help.
  • If you’re having problems with balance billing (large bills for out-of-network coverage), contact your state insurance commission. You can find out how to reach them in the section “More information from your American Cancer Society.”

See If Your Health Insurance Claim Is Denied.

If you don’t have health insurance

  • Talk with the doctor, hospital, or treatment facility that sent you the bill.
  • Try to meet face-to-face with someone in the office, hospital, or clinic who can help you. Explain the problem to the financial counselor or the doctor’s office secretary.
  • Ask the doctor or facility if they can give you the same discounts that they give Medicare (or even major health insurance companies) so that you can pay the bill.
  • You might also ask if you can work out a payment plan to give you time to pay the bill.
  • It’s also very important to meet with your cancer care team social worker or financial counselor to see what other resources might be able to help you with your medical care or bills.

The Hill Burton program

A few hospitals and other medical facilities get money from the federal government so they can offer free or low-cost services to those who are unable to pay. This is called the Hill-Burton Program.

Each medical facility chooses which services it will provide at no charge or at a reduced cost. Services covered by a government program, such as Medicare and Medicaid, or by some other health insurance policy, aren’t eligible for Hill-Burton coverage. But Hill-Burton may cover services not covered by the other government programs.

Eligibility for Hill-Burton help is based on your family size, income, and where you live. Income is calculated based on your actual income for the past 12 months, or your past 3 months’ income times 4, whichever is less. You can apply for Hill-Burton assistance at any time, before or after you receive care.

To find a Hill-Burton facility in your area, call 1-800-638-0742 and leave your name and address to get a copy of facilities mailed to you. Maryland residents call 1-800-492-0359. You can also look online at https://www.hrsa.gov/get-health-care/affordable/hill-burton/index.html
Once you find a Hill-Burton facility, the Admissions, Business, or Patient Accounts office can tell you how to apply for assistance.

If you’re having problems with other bills too, get help

Perhaps you already have credit card debt or other loans. And you probably have regular monthly expenses. You might want to talk with credit card, mortgage, and utility companies and try to arrange smaller monthly payments. For some other sources of help with expenses, see Programs and Resources to Help With Cancer-related Expenses.

You can also find a non-profit consumer credit counseling service to help with this. But it’s important to know that not all credit counselors are the same. Even some of the agencies that advertise themselves as non-profit have hidden fees that can add to your debt.

Author: CBS News/American Cancer Society
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