If an emergency room doctor can suffer a broken neck and still end up with debt collectors coming after him for $30,000 in unpaid medical bills, what hope is there for the rest of us?
That is the question posited by a report from CNBC that looks at the plight of Matthew Wetschler, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco who broke his neck while surfing in 2017. Wetschler’s heart stopped beating for 10 minutes, but thanks to a nurse who happened to be nearby and rushed him to the emergency room, Wetschler is alive today. He needed to re-learn how to walk and his medical career is over, but Wetschler has thrown himself into other creative pursuits, like painting.
Wetschler’s financial problems started at the emergency room he was brought in to, because it was out of his insurance network. Other services performed at the hospital by certain doctors who were out of his network has left Wetschler with $30,000 in unpaid debts, on a total hospital bill of $450,000. Now that Wetschler is out of work, he does not now how he will pay the balance.
“I’m a doctor with a masters degree in health policy, and this happened to me,” he said in an interview with CNBC. “What is it like for everyone else?”
Certain decisions were made for Wetschler while he was unconscious and he is now bearing the financial brunt of those decisions.
“The idea that you’re supposed to figure out what out of network providers might treat you when you’re in an emergency is insane,” said Larry Leavitt from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focused on health policy research. “But it happens.”