Having a baby, even with adequate health care coverage, can be very expensive. And although some manage to go through the process without any large bills, this isn't the reality for many families. This is just one reason why it's important for people to speak out about their experiences, as silence rarely leads to change. One perfect example of a patient advocate? Look no further than OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter, whose viral Twitter thread about a $600 medical bill expertly explains why America's health care system is inherently cruel and absurd.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Senator Bernie Sanders' tweeted, "What’s the most absurd medical bill you have ever received?"
The tweet quickly amassed thousands of responses from Americans who received some real outrageous medical bills, but this thread stood out for a very sad reason. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN and author of the book, The Vagina Bible, replied with her devastating personal story, highlighting how out of control health care in America has become.
"$600 for my son who lived about 3 minutes," she wrote in a tweet that has been shared over 35,000 times. "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."
One can only imagine how hard it was to type those words, yet Gunter continued on with the rest of her story.
'It was from my own department too. Ha! You asked for absurd," she added. "When I got home this $600 bill came for Aidan. It was addressed to 'Parent of Aidan XXX'...and for a second I thought his death was a dream and I got very hopeful he was alive and then confused. And then very sad."
Gunter was forced to relive the tragedy when she had to confront the hospital's billing department head on.
"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," she penned. "I am literally explaining how some babies are born to die. They say, 'Too bad.'"
Obviously, Gunter was not going to let this one slide. "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.And that is how I became a patient advocate," she continued.
Gunter went on to explain how the incident was especially stressful given that she had sepsis and her other children were in the NICU, all of which led to her confusion about the bill. "I really thought for a moment he was alive," she said. "Sigh. 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."
Her tweets clearly hit a nerve with people because it sparked hundreds of comments from patients who've received similarly inexcusable billing statements.
"My adopted daughter was charged $60,000+ for her birth to an addicted inmate (before I took custody) and then sent collection bills (in her 3-month old name, with thrice daily calls too) until I called the hospital and cleared that shit up," one person replied.
This very sad, but true story, speaks to the problems of America's current health care system. Treating the patient with dignity and respect should come before making a profit. And hopefully, by Gunter sharing her story, some changes will be made to this deeply broken system.