Kaiser Health News
August 27, 2018
Drew Calver took out his trash cans and then waved goodbye to his wife, Erin, as she left for the grocery store the morning that upended his picture-perfect life.
Minutes later, the popular high school history teacher and swim coach in Austin, Texas, collapsed in his bedroom from a heart attack. He pounded his fist on the bed frame, violent chest pains pinning him to the floor.
“I thought I was dying,” the 44-year-old father recalled. He called out to the only other person in the house, his oldest daughter, Eleanor, now 7. Using his voice, he texted his wife, who was at the store with their youngest, Emory, now 6. A neighbor rushed him to the nearby emergency room at St. David’s Medical Center on April 2, 2017.
The ER doctors confirmed the trauma to Calver’s heart and admitted him to the hospital’s cardiac unit. The next day, doctors implanted stents in his clogged “widow-maker” artery.
The heart attack was a shock for Calver, an avid swimmer who had competed in an Ironman triathlon just five months before.
Despite the surprise, even from his hospital bed, Calver asked whether his health insurance would cover all of this, a financial worry that accompanies nearly every American hospital stay. He was concerned because St. David’s is out-of-network on his school district health plan. The hospital told him not to worry and that they would accept his insurance, Calver said.
The hospital charged $164,941 for his surgery and four days in the hospital. Aetna, which administers health benefits for the Austin Independent School District, paid the hospital $55,840, records show. Despite the difference of more than $100,000, with the hospital’s prior assurance, Calver believed he would not bear much, if any, out-of-pocket payment for his life-threatening emergency and the surgery that saved him.
And then the bills came.
Patient: Drew Calver, 44, a high school history teacher and father of two in Austin, Texas.
Total Bill: $164,941 for a four-day hospital stay, including $42,944 for four stents and $10,920 for room charges. Calver’s insurer paid $55,840. The hospital billed Calver for the unpaid balance of $108,951.31.