Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

We need to fix health care system

link Tom McDonald

State columnist

All this talk about health care and its costs, brought on by Think New Mexico’s most recent report, got me to thinking about my own experiences with hospitals and their bills — and I’m not alone.

Fred Nathan, the think tank’s founder and executive director, says his group has been bombarded with tales since they released “Making Health Care More Affordable,” a report on skyrocketing costs and what New Mexicans can do about it.

Place my story in the “cautionary tale” category.

It was 1991. I had my first payroll job as a reporter at a small weekly newspaper in the suburbs of Little Rock, Arkansas. My paychecks were meager, my wife was underemployed and, while we had a lot of wonderful intangibles going for us, what we didn’t have was money.

Our first child was born in Little Rock, but before we could leave the hospital with her, we noticed she had a fever. They immediately placed our newborn daughter in one of those sterile cribs in the pediatric intensive case unit as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong, and for several terrible days, we waited to hear.

They finally decided she had a staph infection, and after a week in intensive care, they let her go home with us.

Then came the bill.

I called the hospital to arrange payments and was flatly told that the full amount was due in 90 days, and then the hospital would turn the bill over to a collection agency.

Sure enough, three months later the collectors called. We managed to arrange a payment plan with them, but they demanded monthly payments that were higher than we could afford, and it wasn’t long before we fell behind.

Soon enough, we were sued for the full amount we owed.

I didn’t know what to do, so I called an attorney friend, who suggested bankruptcy. I didn’t like that option, so I went to a second attorney, and he took immediate action. He latched on to one specific detail: since our daughter had never left the hospital, she must have picked up the infection there.

As I sat there in his office, he called the attorney representing the collection agency. He told him that we just wanted to arrange a payment plan we could afford, and that if the agency wasn’t willing to work with us, we’d raise the issue of who’s responsible for my daughter’s illness. Then we’d tie it up in court for at least a couple of years and that I would be out nothing in attorney’s fees because he was taking my case pro bono.

Before he hung up, we had an agreement on an affordable payment plan.

I’ve heard it said that malpractice lawsuits are part of the reason for the rising costs of health care, but you’ll never hear me bellyaching about that. As long as health care costs are so high, attorneys like mine have an important role to play in the process.

Other stories I’ve heard, however, don’t have the ending mine does.

We desperately need to fix the system.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:


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