Diagnosed with medical debt; how advocates work to bring about political change

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – The nation is diagnosed with debt related to medical bills.

Most of this medical debt in collections is typically found in low-income communities. It affects 14% of Americans across the country.

We were able to get information from most counties in the Ozarks. The lowest, on average per person, in our area is Barry County at $428 and Laclede County at $477. On the high end is Howell County at $1,223 and Polk County at $1,409. St. Clair County leads the list with $1,708.

Advocates like RIP Medical Debt say 79 million Americans have to choose between paying their medical bills or meeting their basic needs. That’s why they’re working to make long-term changes to hospital policies in addition to paying the bills for families across the country with the help of donors.

“We will never be able to afford it,” said Diana Vandeventer.

Their current stack of medical bills is over 6 inches high. Jon Vandeventer spent months on a ventilator following his battle with COVID-19. He is currently on disability and needs constant care. This leaves Diana Vandeventer out of work.

“People give me stuff and I’ll turn around and sell it. It helped a lot. We were able to eat and the lights are on,” she said.

They say they have no choice but to ignore the nearly $1.5 million in medical debt they face.

“You just know the number and you don’t even answer half the time. You can’t do anything. You’ve told your story 100 times already and it’s falling on deaf ears,” said Diana Vandeventer.

“Mercy would never turn away a patient because of an inability to pay,” said Sterling Coker, Mercy’s director of revenue cycle.

Most hospitals offer help.

“We have financial assistance programs up to 300% of the federal income poverty level. It is one of the most generous financial aid programs in the region,” he said.

CoxHealth sent us this statement regarding its billing process.

“At CoxHealth, patients are our top priority and our Patient Financial Services team is working hard to accommodate patients’ financial circumstances.

Medical billing can be complicated, and our team has put in place a thorough process to not only make it easy for patients to understand their bill, but also to work with our staff on a payment plan based on their individual situation.

From the issuance of an invoice, our patients have 120 days to either reimburse the invoice or set up a payment plan of their own. We also have resources and partnerships available to help uninsured patients or those unable to pay their bill. Our ultimate goal is to collaborate with patients and make the process as easy as possible.

But when providers can’t offer help, RIP Medical Debt tries to step in.

“We want to make sure that when we do this work, we make a statement about it. We’re trying to show that the system is broken, that people don’t feel like it’s a personal failure, that the stigma of medical debt is removed,” said Allison Sesso, executive director of RIP Medical. debt.

Donors in Missouri and Arkansas recognize the need for more than just funding.

Abby Hughes Holsclaw of the Arkansas Asset Funders Network said, “Something is wrong with our system. For the funders I work with and the Arkansas Asset Funders Network table, they did this explicitly to bring media and community attention to this challenge and issue; to make the recommendations for policy and system change that are needed.

They start small to have the biggest impact.

“It is important to work with hospitals to improve their financial aid policies. When we work with hospitals, we provide them with important data that allows them to see how well their financial policies are really working,” Sesso said.

She says she realizes it’s more than wallets that are affected.

“It’s mentally draining for people and it’s detrimental to their physical well-being,” she said.

For the Vandeventers to be freed from their debts would be a relief, but let’s say they have already received their miracle.

“I didn’t want to live without him. I have it here and we are still family,” Diana Vandeventer said.

There is no way to request help from RIP Medical Debt, they select bills randomly.

Experts say the best way to stay on top of your bills is to read them carefully and be sure to call the billing department and ask questions if a statement doesn’t look right.

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