Drew Calver, 44, had suffered a widowmaker heart attack at his home in Austin, Texas in April 2017. A neighbor called an ambulance, which rushed the high school history teacher to the nearest hospital, St. David’s Medical Center.
“I thought I was dying,” Calver, an ardent swimmer who recently completed an Ironman triathlon, told NPR and Kaiser Health News for their Bill of the Month series, which breaks down health care costs in the U.S.
Doctors at St. David’s stabilized Calver and put stents in his heart the next day, but Calver’s biggest concern was the cost of treatment, as St. David’s is out-of-network on the health insurance he gets from the Austin Independent School District. The hospital reassured Calver that they would take his insurance.
But after his health insurance provider, Aetna, paid the hospital $55,840, they sent him another bill for an additional $108,951, in a practice known as “balance billing” — when a hospital charges the patient the remaining balance between what the insurance provider pays and the amount the hospital chooses to charge.
“They’re going to give me another heart attack stressing over this bill,” Calver said in the article from Monday. “I can’t pay this bill on my teacher salary, and I don’t want this to go to a debt collector.”
His case, where he was taken to an out-of-network hospital, “illustrates the dangers that even insured people face,” Carol Lucas, an attorney in Los Angeles with experience in health care payment disputes, told NPR. “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.”
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But a few hours after the story came out on Monday, St. David’s said that they would lower the bill to $782.29, and by Thursday they had reduced it again to just $332.29 — which Calver quickly paid over the phone.
Calver said he’s relieved to no longer have an excessive medical bill — which was nearly double his yearly salary — weighing on him and his family, but he’s concerned that there are so many Americans facing the same issue.
“It feels great that this is over for me and my family, but this isn’t just about my bill,” Calver said. “I don’t feel any consumer should have to go through this.”
PEOPLE has contacted St. David’s for comment.
In a memo sent out to hospital employees, which was sent to Kaiser Health News and verified as legitimate by St. David’s, the hospital’s chief executive, C. David Huffstutler defended the charges as “reasonable and customary,” and turned the blame to the school district and Aetna for choosing a health insurance plan that “can potentially place a heavy financial burden on the patient.”