Home > Managing Debt > Why Going to the ‘Wrong’ Hospital Cost Me $50,000

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This is a story about a 29-year-old who had a heart attack. Most people would agree that a heart attack at any age is an awful thing to befall anyone, but it’s even more frightening when it happens to a young person. Add that to the fact that she’s dealing with more than $50,000 of medical bills as a result, and this story gets even more upsetting.

It all happened because an ambulance took Megan Rothbauer, now 30, to a hospital not in her insurance provider’s network — although an in-network emergency room happened to be three blocks away, Channel3000.com in Madison, Wis., reports.

That three blocks ended up costing Rothbauer thousands of dollars. Going to Meriter Hospital would have cost her a maximum of $1,500 out of pocket, but the ambulance took her to St. Mary’s Hospital, where she stayed for 10 days in a medically induced coma and six days in the cardiac unit. Her original bill totaled $254,000, Channel3000 reports. Rothbauer’s insurance (Blue Cross Blue Shield) paid $156,000, and she negotiated with St. Mary’s to lower the amount she owed. Still, she owes thousands of dollars for the hospital stay, doctors’ fees, the ambulance ride and other related expenses.

Rothbauer is now appealing to Blue Cross Blue Shield, continuing to negotiate bill repayment with her healthcare providers and doing anything she can to find a way to avoid taking on a loan to pay the bills or declaring bankruptcy.

She’s not the only one to end up in staggering medical debt because of a trip in an ambulance, going to the emergency room or using an out-of-network provider. Unexpected medical expenses make up a significant portion of consumer debt and about half of negative items on credit reports, according to a study from the Federal Reserve. In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on how medical debt unfairly hurts credit scores, and some credit scoring companies have started to treat medical debt differently than other collection accounts. (You can see how medical debt is impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Beyond the credit score issue, there’s still the problem of paying unaffordable medical bills. Rothbauer seems to be taking the best approach in negotiating her bills. If you’re dealing with large medical bills, it’s always worth trying to work out a payment plan, and if you can, a personal loan could help you pay off the bills and avoid having the bill go to a debt collector.

Of course, Rothbauer and anyone in a position like hers probably would rather not have the debt at all, especially considering how things would have gone differently if she had been taken to a different hospital. Debt is expensive — you can calculate how much your debt will cost you in your lifetime using this free calculator — and having poor credit can make it even pricier. As you’re paying down debt, you should think about all the ways you can improve your credit score, because your score can affect plenty of costs you encounter in life, even some not directly related to credit.

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