Hospital care is expensive and more Vermonters are struggling to pay their bills. All hospitals in Vermont have a free or reduced care policy and this year, they will give away almost $48 million in care. As non-profit institutions, hospitals in Vermont care for everyone who comes through their doors, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Although Vermont enjoys one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country, more and more Vermonters find themselves unable to pay their hospital bills.Eligibility for free or reduced care varies from hospital to hospital, but at a minimum they all offer some relief to anyone under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. A few offer free or reduced care to those under 300 percent FPL and some even up to 400 percent FPL.‘Hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in need for free or reduced care in recent years,’ stated Michael Del Trecco, Vice President for Finance at the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. ‘Even with the economic pressures that institutions and individuals are facing, hospitals are meeting the needs of their communities,’ continued Del Trecco.All hospitals have account managers available to help identify people who are eligible for free or reduced care or State programs such as Medicaid. If a patient is found to be Medicaid eligible, the State may pay their previous medical bills, up to three months back. Currently, one in five Vermonters is enrolled in one or more of the State’s health care programs. When a patient is not eligible for assistance, hospitals will work with them on a payment plan.Hospitals will also lose $71.8 million this year in bad debt. When a patient fails to pay or falls behind on their payments, the cost of pursuing the amount through collections is sometimes more than the debt itself. In some cases, the patient claims bankruptcy and the hospital must write off this debt.Source: Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. http://www.bishca.state.vt.us/2009-hospital-websites(link is external).