(originally published January 25th, 2006)

Though it hasn’t happened to me yet, at some point all of us are going to spend a little bit of time in the hospital, or know someone who’s spent some time in the hospital. Hospitals are expensive places for many reasons I’m not going to get into now. What some people might look at and gasp because of the price, someone else in the hospital might look at and gasp because they know what they’re going to get back from the hospital isn’t going to come close to covering the costs of providing the service.

Víctor. Día 1.
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Most people are scared of going to the hospital because of the costs of the service, especially if they don’t have insurance. What most people don’t know, though, is that hospitals know that everyone doesn’t have $10,000 laying around if they happen to come up to that amount, or more or less. Most hospital visits aren’t planned, except for non-essential surgeries. So, many people have two things they should know about that might help make things easier to deal with.

The first is a payment plan. Depending on which area of the country you live in and what type of hospital you go to, hospitals will help you set up payment plans that can vary. For instance, some hospitals will let you set up payment plans for a certain, relatively low amount per month for very high bills; we used to set some bills up for $25 a month in areas with high unemployment or very rural areas. Some hospitals set up plans where the balance is supposed to be paid off in a year or two; that’s tough for very high bills, and you just might have to default on that.

The second thing is charity care. You may not like the term, but that’s what it’s called. In essence, it offers the possibility of getting a reduction on the amount you have to pay for that bill and possibly other outstanding bills. It’s based on income levels, which take into account how much money you make and the size of your family. In some states, you may need to apply for, and be turned down by, Medicaid first, in order to qualify. In some facilities, they may have set up sliding scale amounts where you can get deductions of anywhere from 10% to having the entire claim taken care of.

In both instances, though hospitals are obligated to give you some sort of notice, you might be better off asking about these options before you have the service done, especially if you’re in a state where they may require Medicaid to have turned you down first. Don’t think of Medicaid like welfare or public assistance, if you’re someone who believes that to be demeaning. It’s there to take care of you and your family if you can’t afford healthcare; take advantage of it.