Mounting medical bills burden Glendale couple who lost Medicaid insurance

January 30, 2012

People who can’t buy health insurance because of a pre-existing condition can now get coverage through a federal program.Yesterday, we told you about the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan that’s part of the federal health reform law passed two years ago. 

Bill Nelson Bill Nelson was admitted to St. Joes Hospital in Septemeber 2011 with an infected toe. (Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

“It took a while before the light bulb went off with people that ‘oh, a person with diabetes, a person with leukemia, a person with cancer can purchase insurance for a couple hundred dollars a month,’” says David Sayen, regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which runs the program in Arizona. 

“It wasn’t something that people realized because this wasn’t something people talked about when the law was passed.”

So far, fewer than 2,000 Arizonans have signed up.  One Glendale couple who will apply tomorrow lost their state-paid Medicaid insurance six months ago.  

Last July, we brought you the story of Bill and June Nelson who have gone without insurance after lawmakers and Governor Brewer eliminated a insurance program for people with serious medical problems.  As KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson reports from Phoenix, the couple is struggling to keep up with mounting medical bills.

Bill and June Nelson asked to meet at the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.  They are both former chairs of the organization and wanted to speak here to avoid interruption from their barking dogs and bill collectors.

“I don’t know,” says June Nelson. “I think we’re going to have to file for bankruptcy I think (voice cracks) because I can’t—I can’t go by an hour without someone dunning me asking me for money by the telephone, so.”

Since they lost their coverage in August, Bill has gone to the hospital twice for an infected toe, twice for uncontrollable nose bleeds, and once for a heart attack.  St. Joe’s hospital agreed to absorb the $30,000 cost for one stay. But the Nelsons owe more than $15,000 for three others. They’ve dreading the hospital invoice for the heart attack which left Bill’s heart functioning at 10 percent.  

“I was glad we went to the hospital. I was glad that they treated me. I was glad that they didn’t have to place any stents,” says Bill Nelson. “But what they are not able to tell me is I am going to have any recovery.”

The Nelsons hope the federal insurance for pre-existing conditions will help Bill get the care he needs and keep them from going further in debt.  They’re worried about how they’ll afford it.  But anything is better than the hell they’ve been through the past six months.

“It’s hard to handle it and keep a happy face and not cry in front of him,” says June.  “But anyway we’ll get through it. “

Much like the clock ticking behind them, the Nelsons have been counting down the days until they can apply.  The required six-month wait without insurance expires tomorrow.


Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan Website

1-866-717-5826    (TTY:) 1-866 561-1604