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Investigators: Hospital policies offer extremely discounted, even free medical care

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 10:23 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There may be a remedy for Mid-Southerners who are drowning in medical debt. Chances are the hospital you visit likely has a policy that could clear most if not all of your medical bills. You just have to ask.

One of those patients is Allen Myers. He woke up one morning in March and felt very sick. His girlfriend rushed him to the emergency room at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

“I ended up vomiting blood,” Myers told The Investigators. “I found out that I had a tumor in my stomach that was bleeding. I had, at that point, lost a lot of blood.”

Doctors moved Myers to the Intensive Care Unit and two hours in, Myers says someone from the hospital asked for payment.

“Someone actually came and got my debit card,” said Myers. “They were like ‘you’ve got to pay something.’ And I’m like fine here you go.”

“How much did they charge you?” asked The Investigators.

“$300,” he said.

That charge was just the beginning. The tumor in his stomach was benign, but over the course of his one-week hospital stay, there were CT scans, blood transfusions, and even surgery.

“Do you feel lucky to be alive?” The Investigators asked

“I do. I do. I’m very appreciative and grateful,” said Myers.

Then, the bills started coming. Not only did Myers owe Baptist Hospital, he also owed the outside providers who practice there. Myers didn’t have insurance so his bills were discounted, but he had a mountain of debt to climb.

The amount he still owes is more than $27,000.

Myers said he can’t afford that bill but luckily, help is available.

Baptist is a non-profit hospital so it’s required by the federal government to have a financial assistance policy that offers free or discounted medical care to people based on their income.

Baptist’s policy states the hospital will waive some, even all, of a patient’s medical bills depending on how much they earn.

To find out if he qualified, Myers called Baptist and almost immediately their employee told him about the financial assistance policy and transferred him to someone who could help.

That’s why patients should reach out to the medical providers they owe immediately, said Mandy Pellegrin, policy director for the Nashville-based think tank, The Sycamore Institute.

“If you find yourself with a bill you can’t afford, don’t just sit on it,” she said.

The Sycamore Institute researches medical policies in Tennessee. By its calculation, one in five Tennesseans has medical debt with most being residents of color.

The impact of living with that debt is significant.

“Once you have medical debt on your credit report, it can affect your ability to get a loan, to get a mortgage,” said Pellegrin. “It can also cause all kinds of stress that’s bad for your health. So, what the research shows is that folks with medical debt, and debt in general, tend to have worse health outcomes than those with a clean credit score.”

While non-profit hospitals are required to have financial assistance policies, like Baptist Memorial and Methodist LeBonheur, other local hospitals have them too.

St. Francis, a for-profit hospital, and Regional One, a public, government-run hospital, also have income-based financial assistance policies.

We used Baptist’s hospital discount summary and the Federal Poverty Guideline income range to see if Allen Myers qualified for financial assistance with Baptist.

Myers made about $41,000, which is 325 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Baptist’s discount table shows that percentage qualifies Myers for an 85 percent discount.

There are other ways to find help with your medical bills, according to Rob Watkins with the Tennessee Justice Center, which advocates for patients in medical debt.

“What we find is a lot of people may be eligible for public health benefits and not know it,” said Watkins. He’s talking about public health benefits like Tenncare or Medicaid.

Watkins points out many hospitals also have financial counselors meant to help you pay your bills so that the hospital, in turn, also gets paid.

“Our experience has been that they’re going to want to help you,” he said.

To find if you qualify for financial assistance, search for your hospital’s policy. Then, find the sliding scale discount table. Finally, use the Federal Poverty Guideline and match your income with the poverty percentage tool to locate your discount.

Methodist’s Financial Assistance Policy.

Baptist’s Financial Assistance Policy.

Regional One’s Financial Assistance Policy.

St. Francis’s Financial Assistance Policy.

See poverty percentage tool below.

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