PHOENIX, Ariz. — Navigating through medical bills can be overwhelming for some families. In fact, medical debt was the top reason why American families filed for bankruptcy in 2007.
Now, imagine if your medical debt is coronavirus-related and bills start piling up while grieving the loss of a loved one due to the virus.
A Phoenix man says he started receiving bills from three different hospitals related to his mother’s and deceased father’s COVID-19 medical treatment. The claim summary reached a total of about $2 million.
“I was not expecting that. Both my parents are U.S. citizens. They never in their life ask[ed] for any government assistance. They’re hard workers, and now they’re stuck with this enormous bill, and we don’t know what to do,” stated Ricardo Aguirre.
Aguirre’s life has been torn apart by COVID-19. He lost 10 extended family members to the virus both here and in Mexico. His food truck and catering business also took a major hit. He says they lost many contracts, a food truck and a kitchen they rented.
Then, he and his wife got sick with COVID-19. Eventually, his parents were hospitalized with the virus.
“Unfortunately, my dad passed away. I miss him so much,” said Aguirre.
Aguirre didn’t even have a chance to grieve before the bills for his parents came in. The largest claim summary he has received is $1,438,446,66.
“The latest one that we received was for $56,000.”
Aguirre’s father had Medicare, but he says he was responsible for 20% of his medical debt.
His father’s bills were sent to his mom, but then her bills came in too.
“A finance representative told me my mom had a remainder of $700,000 because she was uninsured during three weeks of her hospitalization.”
Aguirre says he tried his best to work with the finance departments at hospitals without success.
“I just don’t know how to make this go away. I just don’t know how.”
Legally, Aguirre doesn’t have to worry about his parents’ medical bills, but morally, he says he owes it to them.
“My mom is not the same as she was before COVID, but she’s here, she’s alive,” expressed Aguirre.
He took his parents’ financial burden as his own but says he felt alone.
KNXV started looking for resources that could guide him. While searching for help, we found out Aguirre was in fact, not alone.
Hundreds of people have shared their story about dealing with medical bills after receiving COVID-related treatment at hospitals in a public Facebook group with over 150,000 people.
Through this group, KNXV found Jaymi Mansinghani, a Glendale resident and healthcare consultant.
“If you’re not insured or if someone has passed away, a lot of hospitals will write off that balance with the proof of death certificate or something like that. There’s always help for low-income families, and these facilities have sometimes what’s called charity plans or financial assistance,” stated Mansinghani.
She says she’s been helping patients for free with information about resources to navigate medical billing and guide them on ways to negotiate with hospitals.
“Half of the dozen people I ended up helping to eliminate their entire bill was because it hadn’t been coded right.”
People like Aguirre could also benefit from federal funding.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Aguirre’s parents should have to pay very little or nothing at all. Money from the CARES Act should cover them because his dad was on Medicare and his mother was uninsured.
“That’s when the hospitals should be billing the relief fund to the government. We call them HRSA accounts. If the hospital has taken any sort of grant or payment from this relief fund in general, they cannot bill uninsured patients,” stated Mansinghani.
Mansinghani is now in contact with Aguirre. State Representative Raquel Teran has also reached out to him after KNXV contacted her office.
“Push and push and push, don’t accept one person telling you what you owe,” said Mansinghani.
Aguirre says his mother is relieved after speaking on the phone with Mansinghani. Aguirre thanks KNXV, but he says he knows his dad was also looking out for him.
“He’s got my back; he always did, and I know that everywhere I go, he’s with me.”
KNXV has reached out to the hospital billing Aguirre’s parents. Due to patient privacy laws, they cannot disclose specific information about patients’ medical care. However, the TV station has been informed by two of the hospitals that they will reach out to the family directly.
If you know someone dealing with a situation like Aguirre’s, we have a list of resources here:
Federally Qualified Health Centers are community-based health care providers that receive funds from the HRSA Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. To learn more about these health centers, click here.
This story was originally published by Liliana Soto at KNXV.