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Assistance available for medical expenses

The holiday season is upon us. For most, this is a time of joyous celebration, sharing with friends and family, as well as reflection on being thankful for health and prosperity. For some, however, medical issues resulting in overwhelming financial obligations can put a serious damper on the spirit of the season.

This financial pressure can be difficult for some families to deal with and navigating through options and information can be complex. Numerous avenues exist to assist individuals and families with these financial burdens if you ask the appropriate questions and do some research.

Individuals receiving medical care who are concerned about their financial obligations should speak to their provider or caregiver about options to assist with costs. Navigators, social workers or financial counselors may be available to guide patients through the various options, many of which are income-dependent.

In Montana, the Medicaid program is available to cover eligible medical expenses for individuals and families who meet specific criteria. This program is income/asset-based and has a number of other specific criteria for qualification. Counties in Montana have offices of public assistance to process applications, answer questions and administer the program. These offices also provide assistance in applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Healthy Montana Kids program.

Healthy Montana Kids was previously known as CHIP. HMK is a free or low-cost health coverage plan. The plan provides health coverage to eligible Montana children and teenagers up to age 19. A child can qualify for HMK based on family size and income. There are no pre-existing condition limitations. The range of income requirements is higher for HMK than for Medicaid. In 2012, a family of four can have an annual income of $57,625. For more information, visit hmk.mt.gov.

Federal programs also exist to assist individuals who are unable to work because of medical conditions. Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income may be available to assist individuals who meet eligibility criteria. For more information about Social Security programs, visit www.socialsecurity.gov.

In addition to state and federal programs offering assistance, patients who are under a physician’s care and find themselves unable to pay for necessary medications may qualify for free or reduced-cost medications. This may include, but is not limited to, prescription medications, as well as chemotherapy and IV therapy for other autoimmune disease disorders. A social worker or navigator can be invaluable in assisting with the complexities of these programs, but information also can be found at www.needymeds.org or www.rxassist.org.

Most hospitals also have charity care or financial assistance programs available. These programs vary by individual facility and are generally income-based. Generally, an application process is necessary to determine whether the patient meets criteria established by the hospital. Information can be found on hospital websites or by contacting the financial services department within each facility.

Medical bills shouldn’t put a damper on your holidays. Use of these resources in conjunction with advice and direction from your health care provider will be a great beginning to a joyous season with your financial health.