NBC 6 Responds: How to Find Help Paying A Hospital Bill

NBC stations around the country are documenting the open wound of medical debt.

"You do more, you make more, you give it all you’ve got and come home and you’re still wondering – there’s just not enough money,” said Abdiel Mendez, the father of a little girl in South Florida who received a heart transplant to treat a nearly fatal heart abnormality.

Another in Texas concluded, "We’re screwed."

The dark cloud hangs over families everywhere.

In fact, a Federal Reserve found that almost half of respondents had received a medical bill in the past year that they were unable to pay.

"Medical debt isn’t just a one off," said Bruce McClary with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. McClary says there is something simple you can do up-front about high hospital bills: You can ask for financial help.

It’s called "Charity Care."

And you might qualify — even if your family has health insurance.

The American Hospital Association said U.S. hospitals say they offered $38 billion in "charity care" in 2016. That number includes more than $1 billion in Florida, where there are more uninsured people than nearly any other state.

NBC 6 Responds checked local hospitals and found one with an online application that says it will consider writing off 100% of the bill under certain circumstances.

McClary says you’ve got to ask for assistance early — before your bill goes to a debt collector.

"The longer you wait to get help, the fewer options there are," he said.

Many hospitals that receive government funding are required to offer Charity Care. But they don’t exactly advertise it.

A University of Michigan study found that just 42 percent of hospitals will notify a patient about Charity Care before trying to collect an unpaid bill. And so, millions of families that can’t afford to pay have racked up billions of dollars in medical debt.

That's where an unusual charity is stepping in.

"We see ourselves as predatory givers," said Jerry Ashton, a former debt collector.

Ashton now serves as Co-Founder of RIP Medical Debt, a non-profit that says it buys medical debt in bulk from debt collectors and forgives the past due accounts. Ashton says every dollar he spends can buy one hundred dollars in debt and erase it.

"We’re getting rid of the feeling of powerlessness that people have," Ashton said.

Now, NBC-owned TV stations around the country are working with RIP Medical Debt. We’ve made a $150,000 contribution that will forgive as much as $20 million in medical debt nationwide, including $1 million worth in South Florida.

"We are deeply grateful for the work that you people are doing in getting out the word, because if you know about it, you can do something about it," Ashton said.

NBC can’t forgive the debt of specific people, because RIP is buying the accounts in bulk from debt collectors.

If your account is part of the batch of $1 million in South Florida that RIP is buying and forgiving, you will get a yellow envelope in the mail. If you receive one, we would love to hear from you, please.

But even if you don’t want to contact us, please hold onto the letter. That paperwork is proof that your debt has been forgiven and debt collector calls should stop.

And if you want to join the effort and donate to help others get out of medical debt, click here. Remember, just $1 can erase $100 in medical debt.

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