Information on Help with Hospital Bills

Need some advice on how to reach a payment agreement for hospital bills.

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Bill's Answer: Answered by Mark Cappel

The laws governing hospital billing and payments vary greatly between states, counties, and cities, and may apply differently depending on whether it is a private or public hospital, as well as other factors. To find out the specifics regarding the legality of the hospital’s requests, you would need to consult with a qualified attorney with knowledge of pertaining laws in the hospital's jurisdiction.

That said, many hospitals have a financial counselor/financial assistance office where you can meet with someone face-to-face or over the telephone to discuss your situation. You should feel free to ask them why they request specific information and if they will accept alternatives. You might want to keep in mind that some hospitals allow their financial assistance office a certain degree of latitude in evaluating hardship cases, so engaging them in a polite and courteous manner may help you as you negotiate your case.

When having problems regarding medical bills, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the following:

  •  Notify the appropriate offices quickly.
  •  Keep in touch with your creditors.
  •  Record the names and phone numbers of who you are dealing with.
  •  Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls.
  •  Pay something — even a small amount — on each bill each month as a gesture of good faith.

I would also encourage you to download our free Personal Finance Budget Guide. It may help you plan your money management as you navigate the road ahead.

Good Luck,


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Comments (25)

Jane W.
Casa Grande, AZ  |  April 20, 2012
I live in AZ. My husband works part time making less than 10/hr and due to my health situation I will probably not be able to go back to my 10/hr job. We have very little savings. We have very little in bills. We own our house outright (thank god). I am about to have a procedure done at a private hospital in Phoenix and have the Federal Pre-existing insurance (PCIP). Unfortunately the deductible is $1000, and I pay 20% of the bill up to $4000. And I have to find a way to keep paying my insurance premiums of $500 month. I know I will incur about $5000 debt total with this visit, how much should I expect to have to pay a month to the hospital (hopefully they will take monthly payments not sure). How do I negotiate a reasonable monthly payment? I own my house outright and am worried about loosing it (to debt from this). Any ideas greatly appreciated.
April 25, 2012
I think your options are to speak with the hospital billing office. You can do so before the procedure or after. It may be prudent to wait until after, to make sure that your disclosure does not jeopardize the care you need to receive.

I can't give you an estimate for the size of the monthly payment that the hospital will accept. I can tell you that, in a worst case scenario, an unpaid debt could lead to a lawsuit, judgment, and collection efforts that include wage garnishment, bank levy, and a lien against you. Even if a lien is filed and would need to be paid if you sold the home, the odds that it could lead to you losing your house are astronomically small. I have not heard of a case where a homeowner is forced to sell her home for a few thousand dollar debt.
Karin R.
Las Vegas, NV  |  October 25, 2011
Two years ago I had my gall bladder removed, I paid my deductible, I paid off the anesthesiologist which was $600.00 plus I paid off other fees. Soon after I got laid off, and because I could not find a job,I live in Las Vegas, I had to apply for Social Security Benefits. I have paid $25.00 every single month, and now the hospital wants me to pay $1,616.66 in full or they will send me to a collection agency. I am on a fixed budget and can't afford to pay it off. When I spoke to the person at the hospital, his reply was to get a loan to pay the hospital off. Can the Hospital send my account to a collection agency even though I have not missed a payment? I need your help on this.
October 25, 2011
Your question is a frequent one among readers. See the resource If I pay a small amount on my credit card every month, can the collections department still call me? for a discussion of this issue. I encourage you to ask follow-up questions on that page.
XxxPushXXX S.
Detroit, MI  |  March 16, 2011
Can a hospital or a court put a lien on my house that I own for outrageous docters bills? I am from Michigan.
March 16, 2011
Your word "outrageous" gives me pause. By outrageous do you mean unreasonable? If you were charged for services you did not receive, or were charged significantly more than promised or the going rate for the services received, then you may have a cause of action for a breach of contract lawsuit against the service providers. However, just because a medical bill is large does not make it outrageous. A $100,000 medical bill to diagnose a sprained ankle may be unreasonable, but $100,000 for a heart transplant may be a bargain.

If the charges are reasonable, then depending on your state's debt laws, yes, a judgment-debtor may have the right to place a lien on your real property. Consult with a lawyer in your state who has experience in civil litigation or medical malpractice to learn more about your rights.
XxxPushXXX S.
Detroit, MI  |  March 16, 2011
Ok many thanks for the info,,,
Nichole S.
Santa Clara, CA  |  January 06, 2011
My parents live in Florida. A couple of years ago my mother (who is 63, a cancer survivor and uninsured and unisurable) was in the hospital for a month. One of the many hospital bills was for $27,900. My father who is 80 and retired only lives on his social security and therefore they are unable to pay. When the debt collectors got involved they lowered it greatly but wanted $5000 in a lump sum, in which my parents could not do still. The hospital ended up taking the case to court and came to the conclucion that my parents are now responsible for the original amount of $27,900 and have therefore put a lien on their house with 4% interest until paid. There house isn't worth much more than the amount to begin with. What can I do to help them? I live in CA and I feel like there has to be something else that can be done. Do you have any suggestions? My parents are both not that educated and I feel like I am capable of doing more research and finding help for them but I just don't know where to start. Please help! Thank you!
January 07, 2011
Nichole, there are two main options I see. One is to negotiate with the hospital to see if they will accept a reduced pay-off to settle the debt. If you were not able to help your parents pay the $5,000 settlement that was offered to clear out the debt, previously, then you may not be able to help them now. However, you may not have aware of the $5,000 settlement offer when it was made. If negotiating is not an option, maybe your parents should consider filing bankruptcy. Do they have any other debts? As residents of Florida, if they qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that will discharge their debts, all the equity in their home is protected. I recommend that you and your parents speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney who is located in Florida.
December 08, 2010
A bit of background: A debt, which is called a collection account, is an asset that can be bought, sold, gifted, or traded. Typically, collection agents buy and sell collection accounts for pennies on the dollar. Apparently, City National Bank buys delinquent medical collection accounts, although a quick review of the bank's 10K statement indicates this is not a large part of its business. Just because it is a bank does not give City National Bank any special or different rights than any other collection agent. Negotiate your debt terms and payment plan like you would with a collection agent. Before you start, validate the debt.
May 14, 2010
You are asking me to speak on behalf of the billing department of your friend's hospital. Contact the billing departments of area hospitals. Explain the situation to each, and explain your findings to your friend.
Jen .
May 14, 2010
Hi, My friend is pregnant without a health insurance, she also does not have a SSN as she is still working on legalizing her papers with the INS - she has a decent job but could not afford to pay her "would be" medical bills in full, are payment plans available? And if so, what must she do to have everything worked out before she gives birth?
January 26, 2010
A creditor usually retains the right to sell or assign a debt to a third party. It is legal for a collection agent -- and here the bank is a collection agent that bought your collection account -- to charge the consumer interest on the unpaid balance.
Khisha .
January 26, 2010
I live in Texas. The letter from City National Bank says they bought my debt from Texas Health Resources (THR). I was paying $100 a month but the hospital wanted $163 a month. When they emailed me my payment options one of them was to finance through City National but I did not respond back to the email with my SS number like they wanted because I did not want to pay interest on a hospital bill. They called a lot but the bill was never turned over to a collection agency. I received a letter from the hospital stating that the bank had bought my debt and all future payments would need to be made to the bank. I am stuck and I am not sure on what to do. If I make the first payment I am agreeing to pay interest and if I don't it is going on my credit (THR owns Baylor and Harris Methodist Hospitals). What is more crazy is my husband works for this company and they did this. Without my permission can they go ahead and finance my bill through a bank?
Alana B.
Reno, TX  |  December 07, 2010
I am also in Texas. I have a $575 bill that I owed to Texas Health Resources. I too received a letter from City National Bank stating that I could pay it in full or set-up \"a payment plan\" for monthly payments, that includes interest added and penalties for late payments, like any credit card. I did not respond and sign anything agreeing to an interest bearing account. I received a bill from City National Bank today with a minimum payment due, a late fee, and interest added. How can this legally been done?
January 23, 2010
I would be stunned to learn that a state or federally chartered bank bought a medical collection account. My guess is that a collection agent bought the account from the hospital. Because you do not mention your state of residence or the amount of the original debt, I cannot comment if the offer you received violates any state laws.
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