When 44-year-old Texas teacher Drew Calver suffered a major heart attack in April, 2017, he never imagined that he would be lumped with a bill for over $100,000.
Calver had been at his home at the time of the heart attack, and a neighbor called the ambulance to take him to a hospital. The emergency services rushed him to the closest hospital, St. David’s Medical Center. Unfortunately, the health insurance Calver is entitled to through the Austin Independent School District only provides cover for certain facilities, and St. David’s is not one of them.
People reported that physicians at the hospital stabilized Calver, and the following day they put stents into his heart. Despite his health concerns, he was even more worried about the cost of the treatment he was receiving. The hospital insisted they would take his insurance.
His health insurance, Aetna, covered costs up to $55,840, but then the hospital sent him another bill for an additional $108,951. The practice is referred to as “balance billing,” where the hospital sends the remaining bill to the patient after the health insurance pays a portion.
Calver spoke on Monday on NPR about the situation, sharing that he had no idea how on earth he would pay a bill what amounts to more than double his annual salary.
A teacher in Texas was hit with a $109K hospital bill after he had a heart attack. NPR told his story, and the bill was slashed to $332: https://t.co/oEbH3jwkDq
— WBUR (@WBUR) August 31, 2018
“They’re going to give me another heart attack stressing over this bill,” Calver said. “I can’t pay this bill on my teacher salary, and I don’t want this to go to a debt collector.”
In Calver’s case, it wasn’t a case of him making the choice to go to an out-of-network hospital, as he had been rushed there in an ambulance for emergency care, and perfectly “illustrates the dangers that even insured people face,” Carol Lucas, an attorney in Los Angeles, said.
“The unfairness is especially acute when there is an emergency and the patient, who might ordinarily be completely compliant, has no say about the facility he winds up in,” Lucas argued.
Just hours after the story was aired, the hospital cut the costs of the bill down to $782.29. By Thursday, they chopped it further to just $332.29, an amount he was happy to pay immediately over the phone.
While Calver is relieved to be free of the debt, he worries that other families could be facing similar problems.
The hospital’s chief executive, C. David Huffstutler, defended the enormous bill that was sent to Calver, calling them “reasonable and customary,” and turning the blame toward the school district and the health insurance company for failing to properly cover Calver’s expenses.