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A solution to paying that medical bill you can't afford

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 9:59 p.m. MDT

Paige Baucom Strate plays with her daughter Luisa Morgan Strate, 3, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, at their home in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Last year, Salt Lake mother Paige Strate found her world turning upside down. Her marriage was about to end, and her then 1-year-old daughter Luisa was diagnosed with moderate bilateral conductive hearing loss, which affected her speech and language development.

The newly single mother was in a quandary: How could she pay for expensive treatment for her daughter’s condition that her health insurance would not completely cover?

“My daughter’s hearing loss wasn’t that extreme, so the insurance didn’t cover it,” Strate said.

It's a problem facing many: “I had health insurance and I actually have a great job, but my daughter needed something that I wasn’t able to provide for her,” Strate said. “As a newly single working mom, I was trying hard not to let my daughter feel the effects of her family falling apart.”

Her solution came after an online search for help. Strate applied for and received a grant from the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation. The $2,000 medical grant was awarded for hearing aids, follow-up appointments, hearing tests and ear molds that would have otherwise cost her money that she really didn’t have at the time.

She said it took about four weeks from the time she submitted her application to the time she received confirmation of approval. The moment she received notification was an emotional experience, she said.

“To get that letter of acceptance was one of the biggest days of my life,” Strate said. “It was extremely overwhelming. I remember opening the letter and crying.”

Helping Utah families

The UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization that offers medical grants to help children access health-related services not covered, or not fully covered, by their parents’ commercial health insurance plan. The foundation is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based UnitedHealthcare, an operating division of UnitedHealth Group, the largest single health carrier in the United States.

Qualified families can receive up to $5,000 annually per child with a $10,000 lifetime maximum. Recipients must be 16 years old or younger, but do not have to be insured through UnitedHealthcare to be eligible, said Matt Peterson, UnitedHealthcare Children's Foundation president.

Established in 1999, the foundation has awarded more than $23 million in grants to more than 7,500 children and their families nationwide. The foundation’s funding is provided by contributions from individuals, corporations and UnitedHealth Group employees, as well as through sales of children’s books from the “Oliver & Hope” series of illustrated stories that aim “to help families facing the challenges of a child’s medical condition.”

In 2013, the foundation made about $143,000 in grants to 40 Utah families for various medical-related needs. Since 2011, there have been 107 grants awarded to Utah families in the amount of nearly $313,000. Nationally, the foundation raised $5.6 million last year.

“The foundation was built around providing support for families where expenses that might not be covered by a traditional policy could be reimbursed,” Peterson said. Typical grants are about $3,300 and parents apply when they have no other way to pay for the care their child needed.

“Right now, if you can get through the application process, the chances of you getting an award are 85 to 90 percent,” Peterson said. The upper end of the income qualification limit is $125,000 for a larger family, and down to $25,000 for smaller families.

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