Speed Reads

Hospitalization Hell

Woman faces bankruptcy after ambulance delivers her to out-of-network ER — when in-network hospital was 3 blocks away

St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin is about three blocks from nearby Meriter Hospital. For Megan Rothbauer, they are $50,000 apart.

In September, 2013, Rothbauer collapsed at work and went into cardiac arrest. Unconscious when paramedics arrived (she would remain in a coma for 10 days), the 30-year-old was delivered to the St. Mary's ER. Though Rothbauer has health insurance, the St. Mary's ER was out-of-network, while Meriter Hospital — just down the road from St. Mary's — was in-network. "I was in a coma. I couldn't very well wake up and say, 'Hey, take me to the next hospital,'" she told Madison's News 3. "It was the closest hospital to where I had my event, so naturally the ambulance took me there." The result, by Rothbauer's estimation, was $50,000 in uncovered medical bills that have left her on the brink of bankruptcy.

The two ERs' enormous billing discrepancy has to do with "balance billing," explained below in News 3's report on Rothbauer's ordeal. --Mike Barry