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Help with Medical Bills: How to Get Financial Relief for Low Income Americans

Help with Medical Bills: How to Get Financial Relief for Low Income Americans

Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. And for those living on a low income, even a minor illness or accident can trigger a financial crisis.


If you’re struggling to pay your medical bills, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are in the same boat. But there’s hope. You don’t have to let medical debt drag you down. This guide will equip you with the knowledge and resources you need to tackle your bills head-on and find financial relief.

Immediate Help with Medical Bills

Feeling overwhelmed by medical bills is completely normal. But you don’t have to let them spiral out of control. Take a deep breath and follow these steps to start managing your debt and explore immediate relief options.

Request an Itemized Bill

Medical bills often contain errors that could cost you money. In fact, the General Accounting Office found that 99% of hospital bills contain hidden overcharges!

It’s important to have an itemized bill so that you can look for errors and overcharges. Imagine you went to a restaurant and got a bill that just said “Dinner: $100.” You’d probably want to know what you were charged for, right? An itemized bill is like a detailed receipt for your medical care. It breaks down each service, procedure, and medication you received, along with the individual cost.


An itemized bill is important for a few reasons:

  • Finding Mistakes. Medical bills can sometimes contain mistakes or overcharges. An itemized bill lets you see exactly what you’re being charged for so you can double-check everything.
  • Negotiating Lower Payments. If you need to make a payment plan or ask for a discount, the itemized bill will help you be more successful.
  • Getting Help. Many programs that help with medical bills will need you to have an itemized bill. That way, they can make sure they aren’t overpaying.

If you haven’t received an itemized bill automatically, don’t worry – it’s easy to get one:

  1. Call your provider’s billing department: The phone number should be on your original bill or explanation of benefits (EOB).
  2. Politely request an itemized bill: Say something like, “I’d like to request a detailed, itemized bill for my recent visit/procedure.”
  3. Confirm your information: Double-check that they have your correct name, address, and date of service.

If they give you a hard time, remember: you have a right to an itemized bill. Be persistent and polite.

Check Your Bill for Errors

Once you have your itemized bill, it’s time to become a detective. Don’t be afraid to examine every line closely – mistakes are common, and catching them can save you money.

Start by verifying your personal information, such as your name, address and insurance information. Make sure that you recognize all the listed services and double-check that the dates are accurate.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to dig deeper and see if you can spot errors. The sooner you address errors, the easier it will be to resolve them and potentially lower your bill. Here are some common billing mistakes to watch out for:

  • Duplicate Charges. Look out for duplicate charges – sometimes the same service is billed more than once by mistake.
  • Unbundled Services. Some services should be billed together (like a surgical procedure and the anesthesia for it). If they are separated, or “unbundled,” it can result in higher charges. Make sure related services are grouped correctly.
  • Review Billing Codes. Medical bills use codes to represent different services and procedures. If you see a code you don’t recognize, ask your provider to explain it. Sometimes, incorrect codes can lead to higher charges or denied insurance claims.

If you’ve spotted any mistakes, make sure to write them down. Once you’ve completed your review, call the billing department using the phone number on your bill. Be polite and explain that you found an error on your bill. State that you need the issue corrected and ask them to issue a revised bill that reflects the changes.


Once you’re off the phone, it’s a good idea to follow up with a written request for corrections. Keep a copy of your request for your records.

If the billing department is slow to respond or refuses to correct the error, don’t give up. Be persistent and continue to follow up until the issue is resolved.

Contact Your Provider

Once you know your bill is correct, it’s time to have a frank discussion with your provider’s billing department. Ask specific questions like these:

  • “Do you offer payment plans or discounts for patients who are experiencing financial hardship?”
  • “Are there any financial assistance programs that I might be eligible for?”
  • “What kind of payment options are available?
  • “Is there a prompt payment discount if I can pay the bill in full quickly?”

Make sure to take notes during the conversation, including the date, time, name of the person they spoke with, and any agreements reached.

Hospital Financial Assistance Programs

If you’re struggling with medical bills, many hospitals offer financial assistance programs. These programs can help cut or even erase your debt. Hospitals call these programs “charity care.” They help low income patients who can’t afford medical expenses.

Many patients do not know that nonprofit hospitals have to provide help for low income patients. They have to do this in order to protect their tax-exempt status. However, that doesn’t mean that the hospital will tell you about these programs. Many will not reveal the details unless you ask.


Every hospital has its own financial assistance policy. You can usually find this information on the hospital’s website or by calling the billing department. Look for terms like “charity care” or “financial assistance.”

You will likely need to submit documentation to prove your eligibility. These may include:

  • Proof of income (pay stubs, tax returns)
  • Proof of residency (utility bills, lease agreements)
  • Identification (driver’s license, passport)
  • Medical bills and insurance statements

Submit your application along with the supporting documents to the hospital’s billing department. Some hospitals allow you to apply online, while others need a paper submission. You can ask your hospital for details.

After submitting your application, follow up with the billing department. Make sure they received it and to check the status of your request. This can help hurry up the process.

The hospital will review your application. They will determine your eligibility based on your income, family size, and other factors. They may also consider your insurance status and the nature of your medical expenses.

If you believe your application was unfairly denied, you can appeal the decision or seek help from a patient advocate. Even if you don’t qualify for full financial help, you may still be eligible for a reduced bill or a payment plan. Discuss these options with the billing department to find a solution that works for you.

Government Assistance Programs

There are many government programs that can help with medical bills as well. Some programs provide retroactive coverage. It can help pay bills you’ve already received. But, those policies may vary by state.


Medicaid covers most health care costs for low income people who qualify. This program serves children and adults in most states.

In many cases, Medicaid can be applied retroactively. That means it can cover older medical bills that you incurred 30-90 days before applying for Medicaid.

My family benefited from retroactive Medicaid back in 2016. My son was involved in a horrible accident that resulted in severe damage to his thumb. He was not on Medicaid when the injury occurred, but the hospital staff encouraged us to apply. He was approved about a month later and Medicaid fully covered the $23,000+ cost of his surgery. It was such a blessing to our family!


Even if you earn too much for Medicaid, your children may be eligible for CHIP. That’s the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It’s similar to Medicaid but it has higher income limits. It also includes copays and other expenses.

If you need help with medical bills for your children, definitely look into CHIP. You can usually apply with the same office that processes Medicaid applications.


Of course, those who are over age 65 or have a disability may be eligible for Medicare coverage. You generally need to receive Social Security benefits in order to get Medicare coverage. Apply for Social Security for help.

Other Health Insurance

Each state offers a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). These are unique programs to help you with paying your outstanding medical bills. Go to their website, and learn about the eligibility criteria

You can also look for additional coverage on the Healthcare Marketplace. This online tool can help you connect with affordable insurance options that may be able to assist you.

Nonprofit Organizations & Charities

Apart from government programs and negotiating with providers, there’s another source of relief. It’s the generosity of nonprofit organizations and charities. These groups offer many services. They range from direct financial aid to connecting you with resources and advocates. They can help you navigate the complex world of medical billing.

Patient Assistance Programs

Patient Assistance Programs help patients who can’t afford their treatments or medications. The programs provide aid for copays, insurance, medications, and travel. They help eligible patients with certain conditions.

These organizations usually organize their assistance through something called Disease Funds. The eligibility rules and amount of assistance you receive will depend on what condition you have. You’ll need to look for an open Disease Fund that you qualify for.

Some of the most well-known and trusted providers of patient assistance are:

Each program has specific eligibility criteria and application processes. Make sure to read and understand the guidelines before applying.

Specific Medical Funds

In addition to general assistance programs, disease-specific foundations can be very helpful. These organizations support people with specific health conditions. They offer resources tailored to you.

For example, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) helps people with blood cancers. They have programs that give $500 grants to help with non-medical expenses like rent, utilities, and food. They also provide information about blood cancers, treatment options, and support services. Plus, they have a community where you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

Another example is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They offer financial help, emotional support, and advocate for better lives for people with MS.

These foundations understand the specific challenges you face with your illness. They can connect you with specialists, offer resources, and provide a community of people who truly get what you’re dealing with.

So, take a moment to look up foundations related to your condition. They can make a big difference in helping you manage your illness and find the support you need.

RIP Medical Debt

RIP Medical Debt is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals and families by relieving them of burdensome medical debt. They purchase large portfolios of medical debt from hospitals and other healthcare providers at a fraction of the cost and then forgive the debt, providing relief to those in financial distress.

However, it’s important to note that you cannot apply for help directly from RIP Medical Debt. The organization identifies and selects the debt they purchase based on specific criteria, focusing on individuals who are most in need, such as those living below the poverty line or facing financial hardship. While you can’t request assistance from RIP Medical Debt, their work provides widespread relief by eliminating significant amounts of medical debt for thousands of people across the country.

Other Churches, Charities and Programs

There are some programs that provide help with prescriptions, testing and other expenses. But few help with past-due medical bills.

This is because many charities and programs have limited budgets and focus on urgent and upcoming needs. Still, it’s worth reaching out to local churches and community groups. They may offer support or guide you to more resources.

Crowdfunding & Community Support

When faced with huge medical bills, seeking help from your community can ease some of the burden. This lets friends, family, and even strangers help pay for your medical expenses.

This section will guide you through setting up a successful crowdfunding campaign. It will also show you how to use community resources to get the help you need.


Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe can be a lifeline when you’re facing high medical bills. GoFundMe lets you make a personalized fundraising campaign. Friends, family, and even generous strangers can donate to cover your expenses.

For more detailed instructions and tips on creating a successful GoFundMe campaign, be sure to check out our GoFundMe Guide. Our guide provides step-by-step instructions. It also has best practices and examples. They will help you maximize your fundraising.

Modest Needs

Modest Needs is a nonprofit organization. It is dedicated to helping people and families facing short-term financial crises. They provide small grants to cover emergency expenses. The grants prevent recipients from falling into long-term hardship. This can include help with medical bills!

To apply, visit the Modest Needs website and complete their online application. You’ll need to provide documentation of your financial situation and the specific need you’re requesting help with.

Ask for Help from Friends or Family

You can always ask a family member or a close friend to help you out. It’s not ideal and I know it can be hard, but it is always something to keep in mind as a last resort.

Dealing with Debt Collectors

If you’re unable to pay your medical bills in full, they may eventually be sent to a collections agency. This means a third-party company will attempt to collect the debt on behalf of the healthcare provider. While this can be stressful, it’s important to understand your rights and the steps you can take to manage the situation.

Request a Debt Validation

You have the right to request verification of the debt. The debt collector must give you detailed info about the debt. This includes the amount owed, the creditor’s name, and proof that the debt is yours.

If you’re unsure about the debt, send a written request to the debt collector asking for validation. They must provide proof that you owe the debt within 30 days of receiving your request.

For a quick and easy debt validation letter, try SoloSuit. You just need to fill out their guided survey to generate a letter that you can send to your debt collector.

Get Everything in Writing

If the debt is valid, try to negotiate a payment plan or a settlement amount. Many debt collectors are willing to accept less than the full amount. That’s because many debt collectors pay pennies on the dollar to buy old medical debts.

However, you always need to get any agreement in writing before making a payment. Do not give them any money until you have an email or a letter stating that they will accept the payment as payment in full. This protects you from future disputes about the terms of the agreement.

Watch for FDCPA Violations

This federal law protects you from abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices by debt collectors. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors must treat you fairly and are prohibited from harassing you.

If a debt collector calls you at odd hours, harasses you or engages in other illegal behavior, they may owe you a penalty. I have personally settled many debts by threatening to exercise my rights under the FDCPA.

If you have any questions about this, you can connect with a lawyer from JustAnswer for just a few dollars. You can also contact these legal aid organizations for guidance.

Long-Term Strategies for Success

Going forward, there are some tips that can help you avoid incurring expensive medical bills. Consider some of these strategies:

  • Apply for Medicaid. This program covers basic medical costs for low income patients.
  • Find a Free Clinic. There are free medical clinics all over the United States that offer no-cost health care to low income patients.
  • Use Telehealth Instead. You can get affordable access to online telehealth providers through the Low Income Relief plan from CareUltima. This is not insurance but it has helped save my family a lot of money on medical bills over the last few years.
  • Ask for Discounts: Don’t hesitate to ask healthcare providers for discounts or payment plans, especially if you are paying out of pocket.

Hopefully, these strategies can help you avoid costly medical bills in the future.

Relief Recap

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Millions of Americans have medical debt. But, there are resources, strategies, and support systems to help you navigate this tough time. . You can get help with medical bills and regain control of your finances and health.