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Woman's Plight With Hospital Draws Sympathy, Outrage

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke Health System filed suit against a Wake County woman seeking $175,000 for her late husband's medical bills. Under the law, Duke has the right to take her family's home, although officials say they are trying to work out a settlement. The woman's plight sparked a debate over compassion and the need to collect.

The prospect of 70-year-old Mary Bobbitt losing her Wake County house because of her late husband's medical bills drew immediate sympathy and outrage from WRAL viewers.

"It broke my heart," wrote one man who wanted to somehow help her. "There is no way a lady of her age should have to worry about this kind of thing."

Another e-mail wished 175,000 people would donate $1 to cover the demands of the Duke Health lawsuit filed against Mrs. Bobbitt. "It seems this is ironic and unfair," said another e-mail.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who chairs the House Health Committee, calls it a financial crisis for people like Mary Bobbitt and hospitals that need to collect.

"The system is very badly broken," she said.

Insko believes the controversial idea of taxpayer-funded health care for all is one solution.

"Getting everybody in the system, having everybody pay in even when they're healthy so when they're not healthy, they can draw out," she said.

"There's not an easy solution. It's a very complex system," said Becky Andrews, vice president of patient finance at WakeMed.

Last fiscal year, WakeMed wrote off more than $90 million in unpaid medical bills. She estimates Medicaid and Medicare refund less than 50 cents on the dollar for services rendered at WakeMed. Andrews said hospitals often place liens on estates to collect.

"All we would ask from each of our patients is that they disclose enough financial information that we can make a fair and accurate determination," she said.

Bobbitt said she will fight any attempts to take her home, but after contacting various attorneys, she said she has found her legal options are limited.


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