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I am working with a consumer who called our helpline to ask for help with medical debt from two hospitals. When he was in Bristol Hospital he applied for financial assistance but he was denied because he didn’t want the Department of Social Services (DSS) to put a lien on his house. It is a requirement of most hospital financial assistance programs that the consumer has to apply for SAGA medical and it is a DSS requirement that if you are a homeowner and you want SAGA medical, they put a lien on your home to recoup the medical costs. I explained this to the consumer who also said he is disabled, although he isn’t currently getting Social Security Disability (SSD). People who are disabled can apply for Medicaid (also through DSS) and a lien is not put on your home. The problem is that since he isn’t currently getting SSD, there is a lot of paperwork for him and his doctor to fill out to determine that he is disabled for the purposes of getting Medicaid. On top of that he will also have to apply for SSD.

The consumer had been paying $10 a month to Bristol Hospital but now they sent him into collections. He said no one from the hospital ever returned his calls to say if $10 a month was acceptable and he thought it was ok since he didn’t hear anything back from them. He also disagrees with the total amount of the Bristol Hospital bill because they are billing him for a CAT scan he didn’t receive. When he called the hospital again to try to straighten this out, they told him to call the collections agency, who told him to call the hospital. I was able to get a name and phone number for the person at the hospital that he needs to talk to look into this. So far, the calls he’s made there haven’t been returned.

The other hospital he has bills from told him he isn’t eligible for financial assistance because he was never admitted to the hospital. He also isn’t eligible for a reduction to pay the “cost” of care (the actual amount that the hospital care costs as opposed to the increased prices the uninsured are usually charged), even though he is below 250% of the federal poverty level, because he didn’t complete the DSS application for SAGA medical.

When he left my office after an appointment, he had a long to-do list, including applying for SSD, applying for Medicaid (which included about 20 pages of medical paperwork for him and his doctor to fill out), contacting the hospital to straighten out the billing error, writing a letter to the collections agency to dispute the bill, and calling his state Senator’s office to see if they could help him. It is a full time job to be without health care when you have health issues and unpaid medical bills. For advice on managing hospital debt see our tip sheet.
Jen Ramirez