What happens if I can't pay? A guide to hospital financial assistance

For thousands of low-income Alabama workers, delayed health care and rising medical debt have become hard facts of life in recent years. The Great Recession, with its record unemployment and attendant reduction in health coverage, has added thousands to the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured. Many Alabama hospitals have a long history of offering free or reduced-cost care, also called charity care, for patients who can't afford to pay their hospital bills. Such care is a critical part of the health care safety net, as well as a key component of a hospital's community benefits program.

View our slideshow on hospital financial assistance in Alabama.

Read our handout on new requirements for nonprofit hospitals in the Affordable Care Act.

Homegrown Solution: Alabama's Health Insurance Exchange

Alabama's readiness to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains uncertain as key deadlines in the federal health care reform law approach. Alabama is one of 26 states that have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the ACA unconstitutional. But the state also applied for and received federal funding to plan for an Alabama Health Insurance Exchange. States that fail to create their own Exchange will default to a federal version.

This updated fact sheet examines the planning, structure and timeline for a state-based Exchange.

No-Frills Alabama Medicaid Brings Health Care, Jobs

Alabamians often are surprised to learn that Medicaid is a major engine for the state's economy. Medicaid creates thousands of jobs, supports rural hospitals and the state's only children's hospital, pays for medical equipment that all patients use, boosts tax revenue in local communities and enhances our quality of life. Medicaid touches the lives of average Alabamians who never need the agency's services themselves.

Alabama Medicaid is in the bull's-eye for cuts as the Legislature looks to balance the FY 2013 General Fund budget in the face of a revenue shortfall. This fact sheet examines what's at stake in the Medicaid budget challenge.

Health reform and Alabama seniors

The Affordable Care Act guarantees Alabama seniors free preventive care and other new health benefits. Read our fact sheet here.

Health reform and young Alabamians

The Affordable Care Act is helping thousands of young Alabamians get and keep affordable health coverage. Read our fact sheet here.

Hospitals must disclose financial assistance policies

Many, if not all, Alabama hospitals have traditionally offered financial planning and assistance to their patients. Admitting personnel usually notify "self-pay" patients (those whose payments will not be covered by insurance) and their families about this service upon admission to the hospital or during registration for emergency or outpatient services. However, if uninsured people need hospital admission or outpatient services and are unaware of this help, they may be reluctant to seek care, fearing their budgets cannot bear the hospital charges.

Now, with the passage of Act 2009-712, hospitals that offer financial assistance plans must disclose them publicly and in a specified manner. Read our handout to learn more.

Critical Condition: Primary Health Care in Alabama

In a year of hope, confusion and frustration on health care reform, one thing remained clear: Expanding coverage in a poor state like Alabama will improve lives -- if people can find the care they need.

This fact sheet examines Alabama's health care provider shortage as a critical challenge for policymakers in the new decade.


House health care reform bill is a big step forward

The Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), passed by the U.S. House on November 7, would significantly expand affordable health coverage, slow the growth of health care costs and make much-needed reforms in the health insurance market. It would also reduce the federal budget deficit. None of Alabama's seven House members voted for the bill.

Read fact sheet here.

Senate Finance Committee approves health reform bill

Of the five congressional committees (three House, two Senate) offering health care reform proposals this year, the Senate Finance Committee on Oct. 13 became the last to present its plan -- and the first to win a single Republican vote. In striving for at least token bipartisan support, the Finance Committee hoped to provide a model of reform that could actually pass into law.

Read an overview of the bill here.

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