Dr. Jennifer Gunter recalled a medical bill she'd received for her son who died almost immediately after he was born, and received no medical care at all.
A recent Twitter thread by a doctor was a horrifying example of just how ridiculous the American healthcare system often can be. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB-GYN and author of the book, The Vagina Bible, recalled the most absurd medical bill she had received, for an amount of $600 for her baby, who died almost immediately after being born and received no medical care at all. Gunter posted about her experience in response to a tweet by 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary candidate Bernie Sanders asking people to share the most "absurd" medical bills they'd received in an effort to highlight the need for better healthcare policies.
$600 for my son who lived about 3 minutes. He received no medical care. At all. As he died almost immediately he didn’t get enrolled in my insurance plan, so I got the bill. From the hospital where I was a doctor. https://t.co/0Psbv11XtZ— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) September 15, 2019
Gunter explained further about her situation, highlighting the lack of compassion she received at a hospital where she herself worked as a doctor. "As he died almost immediately he didn’t get enrolled in my insurance plan, so I got the bill. From the hospital where I was a doctor," she wrote.
And then I called the billing department and literally had to argue with them about my son being dead and they didn’t believe me that I let him die without medical care. I am literally explaining how some babies are born to die. They say, “Too bad.”— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) September 15, 2019
So I wrote a very threatening e-mail to the hospital CEO and told him I would call the newspaper (this was pre Twitter) and tell everyone how my own hospital tried to bill me for care my dead baby never received.— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) September 15, 2019
And that is how I became a patient advocate.
She recounted just how devastating the experience was for her, seeing as she had just returned from the hospital a few days ago and was still struggling to come to terms with the death of her baby, with two others still in the NICU. She pointed out that it was the low amount on the bill that shook her since it was too low a number for a NICU bill. "I’d forgotten about those few seconds that felt like an eternity when I saw the letter addressed to “Parents of Aidan...”," she wrote. "I really thought for a moment he was alive."
And the most absurd thing is it was the low amount of $600 that jogged my brain. No NICU bill could ever be for $600.— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) September 15, 2019
Ideally, you'd think that patients and their health are the main priority of healthcare and health insurance systems, but sadly, that's just not the case - not in the U.S, at any rate. Several other responses to Sanders' original tweet perfectly illustrated the ridiculous lengths people have to go through to be able to afford even a simple medical procedure, and how easily bills can get out of hand—even when you have insurance. Other people responded to Gunter's story with instances of their own medical trauma, some recounting insensitive doctors and others, charges for services they'd never used.
I had a home birth & my daughter passed after 5hrs due to a heart condition. I was taken to a hospital after because I needed help birthing placenta.— Memorie Holiday (@memorie_holiday) September 15, 2019
They tried charging me for an entire birthing suite I never used.
When my son was stillborn, I got all of the regular childbirth bills, which I was expecting...the horrible one was from the obgyn, whose billing office sent a form letter, which opened with "Congratulations!"— Jenny (@__JennyB___) September 15, 2019
One of the most telling things about the threads was the contrast between people's experiences in the US and abroad. Several people responded to Gunter as well as Sanders, aghast at the hoops people were forced to jump through. The difference was stark—most people living in countries outside the US spoke about their own medical bills, which were either very low as compared to those in the US, or absolutely free, thanks to the healthcare systems in the respective countries.
In Norway it cost me between $60 and $80 in parking fees. Wife had C-section (including sterilization) and she was there 4 days, I spent 3 days. Had my own bed in the room.— Bergh.... (h-en uttales som et sukk) (@berghberghbergh) September 15, 2019
follow up with the orthopedic surgeon at a later date. Two days later his office called with an appointment in 2 weeks time. At that appointment I had 3 more x-rays, met with the surgeon, and had a consultation with a physiotherapist. All no charge. This is in Canada.— Beth 🇨🇦🌼✌️☘️🤬 (@NSValley) September 15, 2019
On the opposite end of the absurdity scale...— Troy Rudd ✊Squad Affiliated🌹 (@troyrudd) September 15, 2019
I injured my ankle playing soccer in Quito, Ecuador.
Doctor came to the house of the people I was staying with, examined and determined it was just a bad sprain. He left and came back with an anti-inflammatory RX and crutches.
One thing the thread made very clear is the pervasive problem related to healthcare in America. If you're in a country where someone as young as 23 is going bankrupt through medical bills, there's definitely a huge issue that needs to be addressed.