HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Thousands of people in Hampton Roads have medical bills and concerns about how to pay them.
Laurence Brown said he didn’t feel right the week of Thanksgiving in 2019.
He said he was in between jobs and didn’t have health insurance. Then, he eventually learned he was having a heart attack.
“The main thing going through my head was how much is this going to cost me,” said Brown.
He said eventually he had to file for bankruptcy after getting nonstop calls from collection agencies. He said his hospital bills were around $80,000.
He is not alone as medical debt leaves people with lingering financial problems, according to research by the Commonwealth Fund.
They reported that among adults who reported any medical bill or debt problems, 37% said they had used up all their savings to pay their bills, 40% had received a lower credit rating as a result of their medical debt and 26% were unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat or their rent.
“When a person has a medical crisis, they shouldn't have to have a financial crisis at the same time,” said Jared Walker, founder of Dollarfor.org. “That's kind of what Dollar For went out to solve.”
Dollar For is a non-profit that helps people with medical bills and to see if they qualify to get their bills paid for.
Many hospitals are non-profits, and under federal law they are required to provide financial assistance to certain low-income people. It is also called charity care.
Walker made a TikTok video that went viral explaining charity care and talked about how many people didn’t know about it.
“I made the video, and I woke up the next morning and it had it had gone crazy,” said Walker.
On the website, you can type in what you owe for your medical bill, how much you make and in which hospital you stayed to find out if you can qualify for charity care.
“I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about charity care and financial assistance and how nobody knows about it,” said Walker.
Kaiser Health News did an investigation into this about two years ago.
The 2019 investigation looked at how well the hospitals did at making sure people who qualified for charity care actually got the discount.
Jordan Rau, senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News, said they found after examining IRS tax forms that many of the hospitals admitted that they billed people who probably could have qualified for charity care.
Under the law, each hospital has its own policy and has flexibility on how they operate the program.
A person interested has to apply and meet specific criteria in order to be approved for charity care.
“Hospitals are supposed to be helping tell people and explain to them that this is something that they can do in helping them through the process,” said Rau, “but our story looked at the fact that a lot of hospitals don't make that that clear.”
He said through their investigation that looked at hospitals around the country they found that some hospitals do a much better job than others.
News 3 reached out to our area hospitals to ask them about their programs. Below are resources we gathered.
Charity Care/Community Benefit
Sentara's Community Benefit commitment is one of the strongest in Virginia and compares favorably to other health systems of our size and type across the nation. In 2020, Sentara contributed $256 million in community benefit across four primary categories: uncompensated patient care, community benefit programs, education for health professionals and philanthropy. As many as 223 patients with no ability to pay sought care with Sentara each day during 2020. Charity care alone does not provide a complete picture of how non-profit hospitals contribute to their communities. Sentara also serves its mission through community health screenings, COVID vaccination clinics and outreach to underserved populations, transportation to medical appointments and direct financial support for affordable housing and food insecurity programs.
Sentara takes a compassionate and common-sense approach to patient billing and collections. We work with patients from the time of registration to explain our charity care benefits and help those who qualify apply for financial assistance. Sentara’s "Presumptive Eligibility” protocol identifies those who are unable to pay their bills, even if they do not apply for charity care. We use credit score data and other factors to determine which patients cannot pay their bills and we do not pursue collection from those patients. Sentara writes off bills for uninsured patients with household incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Uninsured patients who pay their own bills receive a 50% discount, comparable to the rates we contract with health plans. Sentara works with each self-pay patient to customize a manageable interest-free payment plan. Sentara does not garnish patients’ wages, savings accounts or other cash assets and does not foreclose on their property.
Since 2018, Riverside Health System has supported more than 92,000 people in receiving charitable care and looks forward to supporting the financial health of more. We understand that cost of care can be confusing to navigate, but no one should delay care due to concerns about finances. This is why we created Riverside Bill Pay - an online system that simplifies the payment and financial assistance process when seeking care. It allows patients to navigate their options online, and talk to us in-person or over the phone when they prefer.
Nothing is more important than our community’s health. Just as our team takes the time to explain medical plans, Riverside is here to help navigate the financial part of it, too…. That is why we have invested in several care estimate tools, grants and charitable donations to support consumers in making the best choices for their care without financial worry causing them to delay or avoid getting the care they need…. We are proud of the holistic care and support we provide both clinically and financially as part of our mission to care for others as we would care for those we love — to enhance their well-being and improve their health. For more information about care estimates and how Riverside can support each individual’s unique financial situation, visit https://mychart.riversideonline.com/MyChart/GuestEstimates/. Patients can also log into their Riverside MyChart account at https://mychart.riversideonline.com/mychart/.
We have worked hard over the past several years to extend our availability for patients to discuss transparently all financial options available with our team. Riverside has a support system in place to answer questions and help patients understand the insurance verification process and what their financial responsibilities may look like. During these conversations, we also discuss eligibility for financial assistance including grants so patients can focus on what matters most - their health.
If there is anyone in need of understanding their healthcare financial options available, and don’t know what to do, we strongly encourage them to call their health system and discuss their situation. If you are a Riverside patient, please know that we are here to listen and to help. Call our team at 1-800-621-7677.
Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters:
CHKD is committed to care for all patients, birth to age 21, regardless of their financial situation. Free healthcare services are available to patients with a family income equal to or less than 175% of the federal poverty level. Patients with a family income greater than 175% and up to 400% of the federal poverty level are eligible for a discount on charges for healthcare services.
However, the true measure of CHKD’s commitment to children is the high proportion of our patients who are covered by Medicaid. Most children who come through our door have some kind of insurance. For CHKD, that insurance is very often Medicaid, which has very low reimbursement rates for care. Last year, 56 percent of our inpatient days were covered by Medicaid, the highest percentage by far of any acute care hospital in Virginia. Because Medicaid does not cover CHKD’s true cost of providing care, the hospital is left with a large annual shortfall between our costs of caring for Medicaid patients and the reimbursements we receive from Medicaid. In FY 2020, that shortfall totaled more than $40 million.
CHKD proactively notifies patients/parents of the availability of charity care/financial assistance and how to obtain an application for financial assistance via signage and printed handouts in outpatient registration areas, on all bills, in every inpatient admissions packet, and on its website, CHKD.org. In addition, CHKD employs health benefits analysts, who help families understand and apply for the financial assistance they may be eligible for, and medical social workers, who connect families with supportive resources, such as financial assistance policies, to help them cope with their children’s illness.
Bon Secours did not offer a response and provided a link to their website. Click here to view that information.
We have not heard back from Chesapeake Regional and will update this report if we do.