How to stay in front of medical debt during the coronavirus crisis

Linda Fontejon was making payments on a medical bill when she was laid off from her job due to COVID-19. The Seattle resident couldn’t make full payments, but she kept sending what she could.

And then:

“I was kind of shocked at first. I was like, embarrassed that I was sent to collections over a medical bill because I couldn’t afford to pay,” said Linda.

Cassie Sauer is the CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. She says if you have lost your job, financial assistance is available.

“We want people to be getting the care that they need and not to be delaying care because of financial concerns. And they can apply for financial assistance,” says Cassie.

State law says families who earn 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $26,200 for a family of four, get a full write-off of costs.

It becomes a sliding scale for those who make more.

“They will either forgive some or all of your hospital bill,” says Cassie.

To get an idea of how much help is out there - some hospitals offer a 100 percent write-off for families who earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

That list includes hospitals in the Swedish, Providence, MultiCare, University of Washington, and Virginia Mason system.

“Hospitals want people to get financial assistance. We understand people - there is more need in the community and we want people to reach out and ask for help,” says Cassie.

Cassie also says if you are currently on a payment plan of any kind you can ask for help. So I asked if you can apply for financial aid if, like Linda, you’re already in collections.

“You can apply for assistance if you are already in collections,” said Cassie.

The caveat there is that if the debt was the result of a court judgment, you’re stuck.

However, you may qualify for assistance and you may not know it.

In Linda’s case, it took a few weeks to get her financial  paperwork, which complicated issues.  But I was able to make a call and get her out of collections.

A family member then paid her debt, but she is still disappointed at the way her case was handled.

“It frightens me for a lot of people because I know people that are in worse circumstances than I am,” says Linda.

You have to apply with the hospital to get this relief. So send in the paperwork and get that started right now.

You can find more help with that here.

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