Local News

Duke Health Trims Hospital Bill; Woman's House Still Vulnerable To Pay Debt

Posted January 7, 2005 6:24 a.m. EST

— In a story WRAL first reported last summer, Duke University Health System sued a 70-year old Wake County woman over her late husband's medical bills. Now, she faces a deadline to pay.

There is some good and bad news to report in the case of Mary Bobbitt.

Duke has offered to chop more than 60 percent off the original hospital bill. The trouble is, Bobbitt still cannot afford to pay without putting her house on the line.

Bobbitt's family built her Wake County house more than a quarter century ago. She and her husband, King, worked to pay off the mortgage until cancer killed him in 2002.

With limited insurance, the cost of care at Raleigh Community Hospital, now run by Duke Health, rose to $175,000.

Last year, Duke sued the 70-year-old widow to collect and threatened to take the home if she did not pay.

"I didn't like it, but that says to me that my back was against the wall," Bobbitt said.

When WRAL first reported the story, public sympathy poured in and produced about $1,000 in donations -- far short of Bobbitt's financial burden.

"I really appreciated knowing people was out there that was concerned and cared," she said.

After mediation, Duke offered to trim the bill to $45,000. Bobbitt can stay in her home, but the money must come from her son's inheritance when she dies.

"No, I am not happy about it," she said.

Bobbitt's house is vulnerable because, under the law, she is required to pay her late husband's medical bills. Had he run up gambling or even credit card debt, she would not be responsible.

"It shows that law needs to be changed," she said.

Bobbitt has until Feb. 1 to accept Duke's offer.

"Every night I think about it before I go to bed and I pray about it," she said.

If she does not take the deal, she could lose her home even sooner.

Duke Health spokesman Jeff Molter released a statement on Friday regarding the Bobbitt case: "This matter was settled as the result of a mutually agreed upon mediation. From Duke's perspective this matter is closed."

Bobbitt has three weeks to decide if she agrees.