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Hospital Charity Care Could Help More Mainers Avoid Medical Debt

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Monday, November 21, 2022   

Maine requires its hospitals to provide medically necessary care to its residents at no charge as a condition of receiving tax-exempt status, but not all eligible patients apply.

Mainers with income up to 150% of the federal poverty level can apply for charity-care funds, but documentation requirements can be tricky for non-English speakers, gig workers and those without reliable internet access.

Kate Ende, policy director at Consumers for Affordable Healthcare, said the funds exist so Mainers can get the health care they need.

"These programs are available to people who are uninsured as well as people who maybe have private insurance but have a really high deductible, or other out-of-pocket costs that are expensive," Ende explained.

Accessing the charity funds can help people avoid the heavy burden of medical debt, Ende pointed out, adding many people would be surprised to learn they qualify, if they would simply apply.

Four in 10 Americans carry medical debt while one in seven adults say they have delayed hospital services due to cost. Yet, charity funds remain underutilized.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study shows half of U.S. hospitals reported the cost of providing charity care made up just 1.4% of their operating expenses.

Ende argued people deserve quality health care, and it is OK to ask for help.

"People are avoiding care, cutting pills in half, or not filling a prescription their doctor has prescribed," Ende observed. "We know Mainers are going without the care and medications they need because of costs."

Maine hospitals are required to notify patients of charity-care policies prior to collecting payment, and Ende noted some health care workers, such as anesthesiologists, practice care at hospitals but are not employees and would not be covered under any assistance funds.

Patients can find more information at mainecahc.org or by calling the Consumers for Affordable Healthcare hotline at 1-800-965-7476.

Disclosure: Consumers for Affordable Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, and Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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