The cost of staying healthy

healthcare-005Melinda Withrow is an Albion College employee and single mother of three. She remembers suffering from pneumonia for three weeks knowing that she could not afford prescriptions because she had to feed her family. It was either one or the other.

With the economy in a slump, low income families are struggling to afford health care. Some health care providers in Calhoun County are working to provide aid for its ailing citizens.

The average household income in Calhoun County is around $40,000 according to This is just over half of Michigan’s average household income of $71,542. In addition to low average income rates, there are 23,000 uninsured citizens in Calhoun County, according to Joyce Spicer, executive director of Albion Health Care Alliance.

“The state is in bad shape, and it doesn’t help that health care is so expensive,” Spicer said. “One of the biggest problems with health care in Albion besides the cost is that people often don’t know what assistance is offered.”

This was true for Withrow, who was offered an unadvertised aid package through Allegiance Hospital in Jackson.

Before Withrow was hired by the college, she and her children lived for five years without health coverage. Now, she has been working in dining services for two years, a job that provides her with complete health care coverage. Her plan, however, does not cover her children, and she can not afford to get coverage for them.

When she was unable to make payments on fees incurred for a surgery she had, the hospital offered her an application for their uncompensated care packet, a service that is only available to patients if the hospital directly offers it – not everyone is eligible to apply. One Allegiance employee, who declined to provide her name, said the reason for the lack of advertising about the uncompensated care packet is because they simply cannot afford to offer it to all of their patients in need of assistance.

Withrow is currently awaiting the approval of her application to receive the aid offered in the packet. If approved for the uncompensated care packet, Withrow’s three children will receive complete coverage for any hospital affiliated treatments for one full year. It also covers any past unpaid bills or debts that are affiliated with Allegiance.

The uncompensated care packet is officially known as the Structured Payment Program. Selection for the program is done through an application process. The hospital determines an applicant’s eligibility, and the amount an approved patient’s packet will cover are determined by assessing the patient’s level of need through reviewing their taxes and annual income.

The Structured Payment Program does not cover all medical expenses, though; it only covers bills and debts that are associated with Allegiance Hospital.

Even if her family is approved for the Structured Payment Program, Withrow said it will still be hard to pay off her medical debts because she has bills that are from health care providers outside of Allegiance. One of Withrow’s sons needed jaw alignment when he was 2 years old which was done by an orthopedic surgeon not affiliated with Allegiance. Withrow has been making monthly payments for three years on the $6,000 orthodontist bill and still owes $2,000 on the procedure.

Allegiance declined to offer more information on the Structured Payment Program, as they only discuss details of program with approved applicants.

Although the Structured Payment Program is only offered to select patients, there are still other payment options for everyone concerned about health care, including the Financial Assistance Program offered by Allegiance. Allegiance Hospital enforces the policy to waive balances due from patients who are unable to pay for Allegiance medical fees. This program offers full and partial discounts based on a patients income and assets.

To fulfill the requirements for the Financial Assistance Program, applicants must submit an application, supply requested documentation and submit annual updated documentation. If the applicant is accepted into the program, monthly payments after the discount must be paid or the patient will be sent to a collection agency according to the Allegiance Hospital Website.

Patient payment options for uninsured patients are also offered by Allegiance Hospital. Among those included by Allegiance Hospital, some available patient payment options are if the full payment of the bill can not be paid, patients can make an arrangement based on an interest plan. The period of payment will be laid out to either six or 12 months. Under this payment plan, the minimum amount of monthly payment is $50. According to Allegiance, if the six or 12 month payment plans cannot be met, patients can apply for an interest-free payment that considers the patients household size and resources.

In Albion specifically, help for citizens exists through the Albion Health Care Alliance (AHCA), a not-for-profit organization based in the town. The alliance was created in 2003 to “promote wellness, access to health care and care coordination to enable people in the greater Albion community to achieve their optimal health status,” according to the AHCA website.

The AHCA offers programs for Albion’s youth to its senior citizens and everyone in between. One of the services offered is the 211 phone number.

“I think 211 is a great service,” Spicer said. “We are trying to promote the service to everyone in Albion, but especially for uninsured or low income citizens. If someone needed help fixing their car or even just buying groceries, they can call the 211 extension and receive help. It’s a great way for local citizens to find the most affordable services in the area for their needs.”

Peggy Sindt, president of the Albion economic corporation, believes that one of the problems with the health care struggle in Albion is the lack of advertising. Sindt said that people don’t really know what is offered.

“I seems like a lot of people in Albion don’t seek help because they are not aware of what is out there,” Sindt said. “It is important that organizations like the Albion Health care Alliance continue to make great strides to try and improve the advertising of different programs that are in place and that are to come, to get people in the community as much help as possible.”

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