News 4 Investigates: Widow stuck with hefty hospital bill she ca - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Widow stuck with hefty hospital bill she can't afford

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Shirley Burch, 79, received this letter which from the VA which denied coverage for her husband who had to be airlifted to hospital after a stroke. Credit: KMOV Shirley Burch, 79, received this letter which from the VA which denied coverage for her husband who had to be airlifted to hospital after a stroke. Credit: KMOV

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – A recent widow received an unexpected bill she cannot afford to pay.

Seventy-nine-year-old Shirley Burch’s husband suffered a stroke last year. The emergency was deemed severe enough that medical professionals requested a helicopter fly Earl from his home in Cuba, Missouri to St. Clare Hospital in Fenton.

“I had no choice in this,” Burch said. “They told me that’s what they are going to do. My husband is laying there, I don’t know if he’s going to die or what, so I’m not questioning anything.”

During the situation she did speak up, alerting everyone involved that her husband was insured through Medicare and the VA, neither of which paid a dime of the $37,001.50 helicopter bill she received from Air Evac Lifeteam.

“I don’t know how anyone can take care of this,” she said.

News 4 reached out to the CMS, the federal agency over Medicare and found out Earl had Medicare Part A, not Part B, which would have covered the air ambulance bill. Rejection letters from the VA originally stated financial assistance would be denied because the veteran did not have Part B. The VA then responded with new reasons for the denial, including that the emergency treatment wasn’t authorized.

A spokesperson for the Air Evac Lifeteam told News 4 that when a patient is denied coverage from the VA and does not have Medicare Part B they would have no recourse but to bill the patient for the balance. The company does offer payment plans and discounts depending on need.

Between rent, bills and expenses, with less than $1,000 a month coming in through social security, Shirley said she cannot pay the bill even if it is discounted. When collection calls she said she doesn’t have much to offer.

“I said, ‘I have nothing but furniture in the house that’s early Goodwill and a Truck. If you want it, you come and get the sucker.’ That’s exactly what I said,” Burch told News 4.

The VA has examined the case multiple times and at this point a spokesperson said their hands are tied based on the way the law is written.

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