GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. The financial ruin it causes can push people into applying for loans to pay off the original debt or reaching into critical savings, like money they set aside for groceries or rent.

Colorado’s Hospital Discounted Care Law went into effect September 1st — requiring all hospitals to take certain steps to make medical bills more affordable for patients.

Khira Isaacs spoke with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy to find out who it benefits and how patients can take advantage.

“This law will help shield folks from the pressure of experiencing medical debt because their family member got sick or they got sick and needed to receive care,” says Connelly Policy Advocate, Julia Char Gilbert.

An unplanned illness can easily become a huge expense. In Colorado, medical debt can get extremely high to the point where some Denver hospitals even put liens on patient’s houses to collect the debt.

“Medical debt is a massive problem in Colorado, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color,” continues Gilbert.

Thankfully, the Colorado Hospital Discount Care Law puts new protections in place and it even goes a little further to ensure Coloradans don’t have to worry about surprise bills.

“So if you’re income eligible you can apply for these discounts, you don’t have to be a US citizen — it doesn’t matter what your immigration status is — you qualify for these discounts if you meet the income requirements,” says Gilbert.

Patients may decline the screening for public health care coverage and discounted health care but the decision to decline screening is not final.

“And you can do that prior to receiving hospital services, and if for some reason you did not ask before hospital services–you can ask after as well,” continues Gilbert.

Regardless of how medical bills come about, if left unpaid, hospitals too often send bills to collection agencies ruining consumers credit and depending on state laws — it can impact a patient’s credit for up to seven years.

This new law gives Coloradans the chance to see itemized bills, refute incorrect charges and create a payment plan before their bill lands in collections.

“The monthly payments on that payment plan are not to exceed more than a small percentage of your monthly income — 4% of your monthly income,” says Gilbert.

This new law may not lower the total bill significantly but it ensures hospitals provide clear information to patients and manageable way to pay those bills. These new protections put Colorado one step closer to making sure no one faces financial ruin because they or a loved one need life saving medical care.