RALEIGH, N.C. — When loved ones are sick, you do not hesitate to get the best care possible to save their lives. A Wake County woman did just that, but she lost her husband, and now she could lose her home because of the medical bills.
Mary Bobbit calls her Wake County home a favor from God. Her family built the house 26 years ago. Her husband, King, laid brick, and she taught preschool to pay off the mortgage.
In 2002, Mary lost King to cancer. With limited insurance, the cost of care at Raleigh Community Hospital, now run by Duke Health, mounted.
"They knew there was no money to pay the bill," Bobbitt said.
Earlier this year, Duke Health System filed suit against Mary Bobbitt to collect more than $175,000 owed. The only thing the 70-year-old widow has left is her home, which she paid off in April.
"It just feels like somebody tore your heart out when we worked so hard, so hard and put everything we had in it," Bobbitt said.
Bankruptcy attorney Victoria Wright said widows like Bobbitt are often devastated because the law only covers $10,000.
"That's what makes it so difficult and seem to operate so unfairly in the case of elderly residents," Wright said.
Under North Carolina law, had King Bobbitt run up credit cards or gambling debts, Mary Bobbitt would not have to pay. But she is responsible for his medical bills.
"Taking a house is only last resort," Duke Health spokesman Jeff Molter told WRAL. "We're working toward an amicable settlement. . . However, we are a business."
Relying on her faith, Bobbitt said she will not give up on the house she worked a lifetime to make her home.
Each year, hospitals provide more than $20 billion worth of uncompensated care. Last fiscal year, Duke Health recorded $133 million in free care for people who could not pay -- the most in North Carolina. Those costs are off set by government funds and the bills that are paid.
A committee for the North Carolina Bar Association is taking a closer look at whether people like Bobbitt should be able to protect more of their homes from creditors. The recommendations could go before the General Assembly next year.