How to Pay Medical Bills When You Don’t Have Money

woman kneeling with toddler
Paige Kutilek
|7 min read

Financial Assistance

When you or a loved one faces an unexpected illness or injury, the medical expenses can add up quickly. In the US, where nearly 40% of Americans racked up medical debt in 2014 alone, it should come as no surprise that many of us have turned to crowdfunding as a way to pay for needed medical care.

Medical fundraising is one of the biggest categories on GoFundMe. Our site has a 0% platform fee, and you can begin withdrawing funds as soon as you start receiving donations. People often come to GoFundMe in financial and emotional distress. They soon discover that crowdfunding not only helps raise funds, it can also raise spirits—your fundraising page becomes a place where family and friends post words of encouragement and support. This post explores how to pay medical bills.

Facts about emergency care in the US

In the US, an emergency room visit typically costs between $150 and $3,000 out of pocket, but can easily exceed the cost of an average month’s rent, depending on the severity of the condition and the diagnostic tests and treatments performed. When critical care or surgery is required, the price tag can quickly top $20,000.

The cost of a hospital stay can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, with varying amounts covered by insurance. Totals vary widely based on the location of the hospital, the insurance provider and plan, treatment needed, and other factors.

Such factors often make it difficult to predict what the medical expenses for an illness or injury will be. A study featured in the New York Daily News showed that many hospitals have difficulty estimating the price of any routine surgery. A healthy patient wanting, say, a hip replacement, could expect to pay from $11,000 to $126,000.

In the end, it’s not uncommon for a single medical emergency—or even a single routine procedure—to be so expensive that it bankrupts a family.

Facts about chronic care in the US

Healthy people tend to think of medical care as something you only need in an emergency, but 25% of Americans suffer from chronic health conditions that require ongoing care. Heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases are the top three causes of death in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control. The five most common chronic health conditions in the US are:

  • Mood disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Hypertension

For people with one chronic condition, annual medical expenses can be 200% greater than for those not suffering from one, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Expenses for people with multiple chronic conditions can be up to 700% greater. Treatments for chronic conditions and ailments can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in a 2012 survey, the Center for Disease Control found that one in three Americans was in a family experiencing a financial burden due to a lack of medical care. Despite such astounding findings, many people are still afraid to ask for help.

Where to look for help

1. Start by talking to health care professionals

Talking to your doctor is the easiest way to start looking for help with medical bills. Doctors are often just as exasperated with health insurance companies and billing as you are, and many will offer a sympathetic ear.

Bringing up finances and billing has actually been proven to help patients afford care. By reviewing your prescriptions and treatment plan, your doctor can suggest more affordable alternatives based on your budget and insurance coverage.

Doctors and their assistants also know healthcare bureaucracy painfully well, and can steer you toward resources—including hospital or health group administrators who can connect you with forms of financial aid.

2. Find nonprofits that offer support, especially for chronic care

Many nonprofit organizations are also devoted to helping people with specific conditions, offsetting your total costs. Consult a list of health charities and nonprofits to see if any apply to you. Such organizations can be especially helpful if you have a chronic condition and need ongoing assistance.

3. Tap government assistance programs

Government resources can be an excellent source of financial help for those eligible for benefits. Here are some places to start:

  • Call your state Medicare program to see if you qualify for state or federal help.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides financial aid for children whose parents don’t qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance coverage. See if your family qualifies for CHIP and learn how to apply.
  • The Health Resources and Service Administration has a variety of programs providing affordable care to those struggling with medical expenses. Eligibility for free and reduced-cost care is based on a patient’s income and insurance status.

4. Look for support beyond the financial

If you need extensive medical treatment, you may need more than just financial support to get back on your feet. Meeting people who have been through the same hardships and have successfully overcome them can be inspiring to patients who are currently going through treatment. You can find support groups specific to your illness online, and in almost every major city in the US.

5. Use crowdfunding to pay for medical expenses

Whether you need help paying existing medical expenses or you’re looking at expensive treatments, crowdfunding is a proven and effective way to raise money for medical care from family, friends, friends of friends, and the GoFundMe community. You can use crowdfunding to raise money to pay bills you’ve already incurred, or cover the cost of an upcoming procedure.

GoFundMe is free for organizers, and you can begin withdrawing funds as soon as you start receiving donations. We also offer a wealth of free fundraising ideas, event ideas, and a medical crowdfunding guide, all designed to help you run the most effective medical fundraiser possible.

Crowdfunding also allows you to explore alternative treatments that may not be covered by insurance, so you can take comfort in knowing you’re doing all you possibly can for a loved one in pain.

A health crisis can happen in the blink of an eye

During a college rugby match, Robert Paylor suffered an injury that left him paralyzed below the chest. With the costs of tetraplegia in the hundreds of thousands in the first year, Robert’s rugby and college communities rallied together to start a healing and rehab fund that raised more than $800,000 to help this young man recover from his life-changing accident.

Tell your story honestly and watch your community rally behind you

Crowdfunding works best when you share your story with your community, who in turn share your cause with their networks. Telling your story openly and honestly takes courage, and asking for help takes real strength. Kindness is powerful, and all of us need support to get through life’s most difficult challenges.

The beauty of running a crowdfunding fundraiser is that it helps bring family, friends, and communities together in support of their loved ones, despite geographic obstacles. By creating a platform for friends and family to donate money and leave encouraging comments, crowdfunding gives you more than financial support. Patients can post videos, photos, and text updates to stay connected, and your fundraiser can be a rallying point for all kinds of support—financial, practical, and emotional.

We’re here to help you pay your medical bills

People turn to GoFundMe every day to raise the funds they need for medical care—care they’ve already received, or care they hope to receive. And we don’t profit from this situation. GoFundMe is the world’s largest online fundraising platform, and we’re dedicated to turning compassion into action. Our site is free for organizers, and you can begin withdrawing funds as soon as you start to receive donations. Ready to start a crowdfunding fundraiser help pay medical bills? Start your free medical fundraiser today.

Start your medical fundraiser

Paige Kutilek

About Paige Kutilek

I'm keen on creating meaningful and thoughtful content that will have an impact. I'm a dedicated individual with a creative touch who is always eager to learn more. Lover of cats, avocados, and tea.

The leader in online fundraising

security dashboard level handout mobile contact chart bar 33 customer support world 2
Donor protection guarantee

GoFundMe has the first and only guarantee in the industry.

Simple setup

You can personalize and share your GoFundMe in just a few minutes.

0% platform fee

With a 0% platform fee, you get to keep even more of your money.

Mobile app

The GoFundMe app makes it easy to launch and manage your campaign on the go.

Social reach

Harness the power of social media to spread your story and get more support.

24/7 expert advice

Our best-in-class Customer Happiness agents will answer your questions, day or night.