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 www.hrsa.gov/gethealthcare/affordable/hillburton/. 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Along with the American Cancer Society, other sources of information and support are listed below. 

National Association of Insurance Commissioners
Toll-free Number: 1-866-470-6242
Website: http://naic.org/state_web_map.htm

    Offers contact information for your state insurance commission. You can contact your state insurance commission for insurance information specific to your state, or for problems you are having with your insurance plan

Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF)
Toll-free number: 1- 800-532-5274
Website: www.patientadvocate.org

    Works with the patient and insurer, employer and/or creditors to resolve insurance, job retention and/or debt problems related to their diagnosis, with help from case managers, doctors, and attorneys. For cancer patients in treatment or less than 2 years out of treatment

Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC)
Toll-free number: 1-866-843-2572 (may need to leave a number for a call back)
Website: www.cancerlegalresources.org

    Provides free legal information about laws and resources for many cancer-related issues including health insurance issues, denial of benefits, and government benefits

Financial Planning Association
Telephone: 1-800-322-4237
Website: www.fpanet.org

    Offers free information on personal finance, answers general financial planning questions, makes referrals to FPA members who are Certified Financial Planners™, and sets up free financial planning services to qualified people and families in need

Internal Revenue Service
Toll-free number: 1-800-829-1040
TTY: 1-800-829-4059
Website: www.irs.gov

    Has answers to tax questions, tax forms, and referrals to free tax help for those who qualify. You can find a list of tax-deductible medical expenses at www.irs.gov/publications/p502/ar02.html

*Inclusion on these lists does not imply endorsement by the American Cancer Society.

Last Medical Review: November 18, 2015 Last Revised: March 1, 2016

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