Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us | TIME.com
Feb. 20, 2013
1. Routine Care, Unforgettable Bills
When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last
March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she
had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s
father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family
credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by
at least eight years.
Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small
technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health
insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been
able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital
costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at
MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean.
Stephanie was then told by a billing clerk that the estimated cost of Sean’s
visit — just to be examined for six days so a treatment plan could be
devised — would be $48,900, due in advance. Stephanie got her mother to
write her a check. “You do anything you can in a situation like
that,” she says. The Recchis flew to Houston, leaving
Stephanie’s mother to care for their two teenage children.
About a week later, Stephanie had to ask her mother for $35,000 more so Sean could begin the treatment the doctors had
decided was urgent. His condition had worsened rapidly since he had arrived in Houston. He was “sweating and shaking
with chills and pains,” Stephanie recalls. “He had a large mass in his chest that was ... growing. He was panicked.”
Nonetheless, Sean was held for about 90 minutes in a reception area, she says, because the hospital could not confirm that
the check had cleared. Sean was allowed to see the doctor only after he advanced MD Anderson $7,500 from his credit card.
The hospital says there was nothing unusual about how Sean was kept waiting.