Jarrett James was not going to let the letter from Aetna take his focus off recovering from prostate cancer. But it’s not easy to take your mind off a bill for $106,000.
Six weeks after his surgery to remove a tumor, Jarrett, 54, was used to getting two or more bills in the mail every day. Jarrett and his wife calmly collected them, waiting for his insurance plan to cover its share.
But the letter from Aetna informed Jarrett that the insurer was retroactively rescinding his coverage, leaving him and his wife on the hook for multiple bills, including the $106,000 bill for his surgery.
“There’s just no way,” Jarrett recalled thinking, that he and his wife could pay “a six-figure bill, and the other, subsequent bills on top of it. Those are just going to be out of our reach.”
The hospital where Jarrett had his surgery — Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. — did send him a form to apply for financial assistance. But with so many bills, even partial medical bill forgiveness would put him and his wife deep in debt for years.
As Jarrett and his wife were looking for other ways to get help with his medical debt, they saw a segment on the local news about a man who had his hospital bills forgiven through the hospital’s charity care program. All nonprofit hospitals, including TriStar Centennial, are required to offer debt relief for some patients in exchange for keeping their tax-free status. Looking online for an organization that could help him do the same thing, Jarrett came across Dollar For’s website and filled out its short eligibility form. Then, Jarrett was assigned a Patient Advocate who asked Jarrett to send over bills and other documentation for TriStar’s financial assistance application.
After Jarrett’s Patient Advocate submitted the application, they said to expect an email decision within a couple of days, but the response was nearly immediate. TriStar emailed to say his account had been closed, his debt forgiven.
“I was in disbelief,” he said. “I almost came to tears.” Jarrett emailed Dollar For to make sure that he wasn’t mistaken. “Is this real?” he asked. “Did you guys really get them to settle a six-figure debt like that?”
“That is absolutely what that means,” the Patient Advocate told Jarrett.
More than seven months after his surgery, Jarrett remains cancer free. He still has about $20,000 in bills from other providers at TriStar, a sum that Dollar For is also working to get forgiven. In the meantime, Jarrett is focused on staying healthy in his recovery. He advises others in a similar position to “be focused on your health first and foremost. You can’t let worry [over bills] come into play,” he said, “because that will start affecting your health.”
Once your health is under control, Jarrett said, you can focus on the bills. That’s where his second piece of advice comes into play. Jarrett recommends contacting an organization like Dollar For that can help you with your bills. It “really, really helps,” Jarrett said. “You have someone who can take that burden off you.”