hospital bills and indigent patients....

OK, so lets say that an indigent patient who cant pay for their healthcare goes to the ER for treatment.
I know that in most places, they cant throw the guy out on the street, they HAVE to treat him, even if its routine and not necessary for the ER.
My question is, how do they deal with this financially? Do they just ask if you can pay, you say no, and they say OK the doctor will see you in a min?
Or do they hit you with a fat bill and send bill collectors after you to pay for it, even if you really cant afford it? I know they cant forcefully take the money from you, but can they ruin your credit record instead? Do they report you to credit agencies if you cant afford to pay?

Okay, this is a subject I can talk about from personal experience, unfortunately. My husband had a stroke two years ago, and working in the construction industry, he was one of many people whose employers do not offer health insurance. Did he get good treatment? Yes. The hospital and Rehab hospital were both great. But, even though we had just moved to Missouri and had no health insurance, he was not eligible for any kind of state assistance because our car was worth more than $2,000. So, every dime of the money we had set aside for medical school (from the sale of our home in Oklahoma), went to pay medical bills, and we still owe about $20,000 more. And, yes, at least here, the hospital has its own accounting agency that bugs you to death, but so far they are accepting our monthly payment plan that I worked out with them, and so, hopefully, are not totally wrecking our credit.
The worst case is for the patient like my husband who falls between the cracks. If we didn't have any property at all, the state would have paid the bills totally. But, like I said, owning a vehicle worth more than $2,000 left us with over $75,000 in medical bills for which we are responsible.

There are very strict federal guidelines re: hospital treatment of patients presenting acutely. They're under the eponym EMTALA - emergency medical treatment act something-or-other. Heavy fines and loss of hospital privileges can result from violations.
Basically all persons presenting to the ED have to be evaluated by a physician, regardless of ability to pay. Hospitals pursue payment pretty ruthlessly once a patient enters the system. Many families have been financially devastated by an unanticipated hospital stay.
Most communities have a facility which receives compensation from various local or national sources to care for indigent patients, and payment becomes tailored to a person's ability to pay. Patients are often quickly transferred once they are deemed stable.

Quote (GED2MD @ July 23 2002 6:23 am)
They're under the eponym EMTALA - emergency medical treatment act something-or-other.

Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.
Take care,