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Medical debt is a growing problem in America. I see it every day in my work as a certified patient navigator and patient advocate here at the Colon Cancer Alliance. Almost 60% of calls to our Helpline have to do with financial need.

As treatments get more specialized and personalized, costs will continue to rise. This financial toxicity is just as dangerous to patients as chemotherapy side effects like neuropathy, rashes, etc. Medical debt is now the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.

One solution to this problem is charity care.

Charity care is not a single program, but a collection of local, state and federal laws to help uninsured and underinsured patients. Charity care programs exist at not-for-profit hospitals and hospital outpatient centers.

[caption id="attachment_4142" align="alignright" width="228"]This blog was written by Certified Patient Support Navigator Crawford Clay. This blog was written by Certified Patient Support Navigator Crawford Clay, an eleven year survivor and advocacy expert.[/caption]

The first thing you need to know is, despite the name, charity care is not really charity.

About 20 years ago, Congress created the Medicare 340B program to help cover the costs of charity care. Local and state governments also contribute. In 2011, not-for-profit hospitals got $25 billion in tax breaks to treat uninsured and underinsured patients like you.

The Affordable Care Act now requires hospitals to tell you about charity care. Unfortunately, a study by the University of Michigan published by the New England Journal of Medicine found out most hospitals aren’t.

In fact, only 42 percent of hospitals were notifying patients that they could be eligible for charity care before trying to collect unpaid medical bills. This means you'll need to be your own advocate and ask.

The best time to talk about charity care is at the beginning of treatment, but it’s never too late to ask.

You should ask to speak to your hospital or treatment center’s financial department. They may also have a social worker for you to talk to. For more help, see the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Financial Resource Guide or call our Helpline at (877) 422-2030.

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help!

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