Sarah Witter couldn’t catch a break even though her leg had gotten several.
As she lay on a ski trail in Vermont last February, Witter, now 63, knew she hadn’t suffered a regular fall because she couldn’t get up. An X-ray showed she had fractured two bones in her lower left leg.
A surgeon at Rutland Regional Medical Center screwed two gleaming metal plates onto the bones to stabilize them. “I was very pleased with how things came together,” the doctor wrote in his operation notes.
But as spring ended, the wound started to hurt more. In June, Witter returned to the doctor. “He X-rayed it and said it broke,” she said. “And I was thinking, what broke? And he said, the plate. He said they do sometimes.”
The doctor performed another operation, removing the cracked plate and replacing it with a larger one.
Witter said she had been dutifully following all the instructions for her recovery, including going to physical therapy and keeping weight off her leg.
“I was, of course, thinking, ‘What did I do?’ ” Witter said. “The doctor said right off the bat it was nothing I did.”
Then the bill came.
Patient: Sarah Witter, a retired teacher and ski buff who had moved from Pennsylvania to Vermont for the outdoorsy lifestyle.
Total bill: $99,159 for emergency services, therapy and hospital care, including $52,587 for the first surgery and $43,208 for the second surgery. Altogether, Witter’s insurer, Aetna, paid $76,783. Witter paid $18,442 — including $7,808 for the second surgery. About half of Witter’s total expenses were copayments; another $7,410 was the portion of hospital charges that Aetna considered unreasonably high and refused to pay.
By Jordan Rau | NPR
Image Credit: Matt Baldelli / KHN