Hit with $7,146 for two hospital bills, a family sought health care in Mexico : Shots


Claudia and Jesús Fierro of Yuma, Ariz., overview their medical payments. They pay $1,000 a month for medical health insurance but nonetheless owed greater than $7,000 after two episodes of care on the native hospital.

Lisa Hornak for Kaiser Well being Information

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Lisa Hornak for Kaiser Well being Information

Claudia and Jesús Fierro of Yuma, Ariz., overview their medical payments. They pay $1,000 a month for medical health insurance but nonetheless owed greater than $7,000 after two episodes of care on the native hospital.

Lisa Hornak for Kaiser Well being Information

The Fierro household of Yuma, Ariz., had a string of unhealthy medical luck that began in December 2020.

That is when Jesús Fierro Sr. was admitted to the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19. He spent 18 days at Yuma Regional Medical Heart, the place he misplaced 60 kilos. He got here residence weak and depending on an oxygen tank.

Then, in June 2021, his spouse, Claudia Fierro, fainted whereas ready for a desk on the native Olive Backyard restaurant. She felt dizzy one minute and was in an ambulance on her solution to the identical medical middle the subsequent. She was advised her magnesium ranges have been low and was despatched residence inside 24 hours.

The household has medical health insurance by Jesús Sr.’s job, however it did not defend the Fierros from owing hundreds of {dollars}. So when their son Jesús Fierro Jr. dislocated his shoulder, the Fierros — who hadn’t but paid the payments for their very own care — opted out of U.S. well being care and headed south to the U.S.-Mexico border.

And no different payments got here for a minimum of one member of the household.

The sufferers: Jesús Fierro Sr., 48; Claudia Fierro, 51; and Jesús Fierro Jr., 17. The household has Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas medical health insurance by Jesús Sr.’s employment with NOV, previously Nationwide Oilwell Varco, an American multinational oil firm based mostly in Houston.

Medical providers: For Jesús Sr., 18 days of inpatient look after a extreme case of COVID-19. For Claudia, fewer than 24 hours of emergency care after fainting. For Jesús Jr., a walk-in appointment for a dislocated shoulder.

Complete payments: Jesús Sr. was charged $3,894.86. The full invoice was $107,905.80 for COVID-19 therapy. Claudia was charged $3,252.74, together with $202.36 for therapy from an out-of-network doctor. The full invoice was $13,429.50 for lower than someday of therapy. Jesús Jr. was charged $5 (70 pesos) for an outpatient go to that the household paid in money.

Service suppliers: Yuma Regional Medical Center, a 406-bed nonprofit hospital in Yuma, Ariz. It is within the Fierros’ insurance coverage community. And a personal physician’s workplace in Mexicali, Mexico, which isn’t.

What offers: The Fierros have been trapped in a state of affairs during which an increasing number of People discover themselves. They’re what some consultants time period “functionally uninsured.” They’ve insurance coverage — on this case, by Jesús Sr.’s job, which pays $72,000 a 12 months. However their well being plan is dear, and so they don’t have the liquid savings to pay their share of the invoice. The Fierros’ plan says their out-of-pocket most is $8,500 a 12 months for the household. And in a rustic the place even a brief keep in an emergency room is billed at a staggering sum, meaning minor encounters with the medical system can take just about all of the household’s disposable financial savings, 12 months after 12 months. And that is why the Fierros opted out of U.S. well being care for his or her son.

Based on the phrases of the insurance coverage plan, which has a $2,000 household deductible and 20% coinsurance, Jesús Sr. owed $3,894.86 out of a complete invoice of almost $110,000 for his COVID-19 care in late 2020.

The Fierros are paying off that invoice — $140 a month — and nonetheless owe greater than $2,500. In 2020, most insurers agreed to waive cost-sharing payments for COVID-19 therapy after the passage of federal coronavirus relief packages that offered emergency funding to hospitals. However waiving therapy prices was non-compulsory beneath the legislation. And though Blue Cross and Blue Protect of Texas has a posted policy saying it will waive cost-sharing by the top of 2020, the insurer did not try this for Jesús Sr.’s invoice. Carrie Kraft, a spokesperson for the insurer, would not talk about why his invoice was not waived.

(Greater than two years into the coronavirus pandemic and with vaccines now extensively accessible to scale back the danger of hospitalization and demise, most insurers once more cost sufferers their cost-sharing portion.)

On Jan. 1, 2021, the Fierros’ deductible and out-of-pocket most reset. So when Claudia fainted — a reasonably frequent incidence and barely indicative of a major problem — she was despatched by ambulance to the emergency room, leaving the Fierros with one other invoice of greater than $3,000. That sort of invoice is a big stress on many American households; fewer than half of U.S. adults have sufficient financial savings to cowl a surprise $1,000 expense. In current polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “sudden medical payments” ranked second amongst household price range worries, behind fuel costs and different transportation prices.

The brand new invoice for the fainting spell destabilized the Fierros’ family price range. “We thought of taking a second mortgage on our home,” mentioned Jesús Sr., a Los Angeles native. When he referred to as the hospital to ask for monetary help, he mentioned, individuals he spoke with strongly discouraged him from making use of. “They advised me that I may apply however that it will solely decrease Claudia’s invoice by $100,” he mentioned.

So when Jesús Jr. dislocated his shoulder when boxing along with his brother, the household headed south.

Jesús Sr. requested his son, “Are you able to bear the ache for an hour?” The teenager replied, “Sure.”

Father and son took the hourlong journey to Mexicali, Mexico, to Dr. Alfredo Acosta’s workplace.

The Fierros do not contemplate themselves “well being vacationers.” Jesús Sr. crosses the border into Mexicali daily for his work, and Mexicali is Claudia’s hometown. They have been touring to the neighborhood often known as La Chinesca (Chinatown) for years to see Acosta, a common practitioner, who treats the bronchial asthma of their youngest son, Fernando, 15. Therapy for Jesús Jr.’s dislocated shoulder was the primary time that they had sought emergency care from the doctor. The value was proper, and the therapy efficient.

A go to to a U.S. emergency room seemingly would have concerned a facility charge, costly X-rays and maybe a specialist’s analysis — which might have generated hundreds of {dollars} in payments. Acosta adjusted Jesús Jr.’s shoulder in order that the bones aligned within the socket and prescribed him ibuprofen for soreness. The household paid money on the spot.

Though the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention would not endorse traveling to another country for medical care, the Fierros are amongst millions of Americans annually who do. A lot of them are fleeing costly care within the U.S., even with medical health insurance.

Acosta, who’s from the Mexican state of Sinaloa and is a graduate of the Autonomous College of Sinaloa, moved to Mexicali 20 years in the past. He witnessed firsthand the expansion of the medical tourism trade.

He sees about 14 sufferers a day (no appointment needed), and 30% to 40% of them are from the US. He expenses $8 for typical visits.

In Mexicali, a mile from La Chinesca, the place the household medical doctors have their modest workplaces, there are medical amenities that rival these in the US. The amenities have worldwide certification and are thought of costly, however they’re nonetheless cheaper than hospitals in the US.

Decision: Each Blue Cross and Blue Protect of Texas and Yuma Regional Medical Heart declined to debate the Fierros’ payments with KHN, although Jesús Sr. and Claudia gave written permission for them to take action.

In an announcement, Yuma Regional Medical Heart spokesperson Machele Headington mentioned, “Making use of for monetary assist begins with an utility — a service we prolonged, and nonetheless prolong, to those sufferers.”

In an e-mail, Kraft, the Blue Cross and Blue Protect of Texas spokesperson, mentioned: “We perceive the frustration our members expertise once they obtain a invoice containing COVID-19 expenses that they don’t perceive, or really feel could also be inappropriate.”

The Fierros are planning to use to the hospital for monetary assist for his or her excellent money owed. However Claudia mentioned by no means once more: “I advised Jesús, ‘If I faint once more, please drive me residence,’ ” moderately than name an ambulance.

“We pay $1,000 premium month-to-month for our employment-based insurance coverage,” added Jesús. “We must always not must stay with this stress.”

The takeaway: Bear in mind that your deductible “meter” begins over yearly and that just about any emergency care can generate a invoice within the hundreds of {dollars} and should depart you owing your deductible and most of your out-of-pocket most.

Additionally remember that even for those who appear to not qualify for monetary help based mostly on a hospital’s coverage, you possibly can apply and clarify your circumstances. Due to the excessive price of care within the U.S., even many middle-income individuals qualify. And plenty of hospitals give their finance departments leeway to regulate payments. Some sufferers uncover that if they provide to pay money on the spot, the invoice could be decreased dramatically.

All nonprofit hospitals have a authorized obligation to assist sufferers: They pay no tax in alternate for offering “neighborhood profit.” Make a case for your self, and ask for a supervisor for those who get an preliminary no.

For elective procedures, sufferers can comply with the Fierros’ instance, changing into savvy well being care consumers. Not too long ago, Claudia wanted an endoscopy to judge an ulcer. The household referred to as completely different amenities and found a $500 distinction in the price of an endoscopy. They may quickly drive to a medical middle in Central Valley, California, two hours from residence, for the process.

The Fierros did not even contemplate going again to their native hospital. “I do not need to say, ‘Hiya’ and obtain a $3,000 invoice,” joked Jesús Sr.

Stephanie O’Neill contributed the audio portrait with this story.

Invoice of the Month is a crowdsourced investigation by KHN and NPR that dissects and explains medical payments. Do you might have an attention-grabbing medical invoice you need to share with us? Tell us about it!


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