The View From Your Sickbed

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

In 1994, when my son was around two and a half years old, he started developing asthma that required multiple hospitalizations.  I had just started law school and my insurance had lapsed from my previous employer.  I was trying to figure out what to do about the insurance when my son had another attack.  This time it wasn’t as severe as the others and as he teetered between feeling OK and not so OK at the Dr’s office I asked if we could just stay there since he was not insured at the moment.  The Dr., obviously annoyed said “If it were MY kid I would want him in the hospital.”  Not wanting to be a bad father, I drove him to the emergency room at a catholic hospital where he was eventually admitted.

I told the Nurse who checked him in that we didn’t have insurance and really had no way to pay for hospitalization since I was in school. She informed me that I could be considered a “charity” case and not to worry about it.  I didn’t.  As it turned out he really didn’t need to be admitted and he was feeling better about 6 hours later but they kept him for two days “just in case” and because they were “following procedure.”  A month later I received a bill for thousands of dollars.

I called and said that I was to be considered a “charity” case.  That seemed to mollify the billing department.  Six months later I received another bill, at which time I called again and told them about being a “charity” case.  At that point I was informed that I was supposed to have filled out forms and apply for charity status and too much time had elapsed to fill them out now.  Thus, I owed the money and there was nothing they could do.  

For years they hounded me and I refused to pay on principle.  After my divorce in 2000 that made a mess of my finances I filed for bankruptcy and had the hospital debt discharged.  It seems a sad state of affairs when the only way to pay your medical bills when you are on the verge of being destitute is to file for bankruptcy.