The story so far: Freddy Williams collapsed from dehydration on a flight home from Chicago. When the plane landed at Reagan National Airport, Freddy was rushed to the hospital. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/freddy.
Freddy is flipping through his mail when he spots an envelope from Inova Alexandria Hospital. He opens it with a fair amount of curiosity.
More than two months have passed since he was taken to the emergency room. He had no medical insurance and no idea what the episode would cost him: ambulance, blood test, urinalysis, several hours lying in a bed hooked up to an intravenous drip. Would the bill come to $3,500 or even $4,000?
Worried about the cost, Freddy didn't schedule a follow-up doctor's exam, figuring that if his health were truly grave, the hospital would have alerted him.
"I'm fairly healthy as far as I know," Freddy says. "And I normally don't get sick that often anyway."
Now, to his relief, he sees that the hospital is charging him about $1,400. Still, that's a considerable burden for a 33-year-old deejay and dog walker who's already struggling to pay off a load of old debts. His telephone service was cut off several weeks ago because he owes Verizon $160. He's been relying on his cell phone ever since.
"Everything's spoken for right now, before I bring it home or deposit it," Freddy says. "And I'm not paycheck-to-paycheck, but it's tight. Sometimes my clients pay late, and then my rent is late. And I get charged, like, 25 bucks for a late fee."
Freddy says he's looked for health insurance. He'd like to go to the dentist twice a year and have an annual physical and know that his costs would be covered if he were really sick. "The cheapest I've found -- a single person, smoker -- is about $220 per month," he says. Too much. In truth, he says, if he made insurance a priority, he could probably afford it.
Food is one area where he acknowledges that he could economize. He dines out for almost every meal. He hasn't cooked in his apartment in Adams Morgan since moving there in January. The stove, he says, has dust on it. "I enjoy cooking, I really, really do. But it's just hard to cook for myself."
Freddy calls the hospital to discuss the bill. "I don't procrastinate," he says. "Those people will send you to collections quicker than anybody, tarnish your record. I don't want [my credit report] to be any more screwed up than it is."
The hospital is incredibly understanding about Freddy's situation. He just says that he's uninsured, and voila, the bill is cut in two. "I don't know, man, I guess I got somebody on my side," Freddy jokes.
He sends the hospital a check to start chipping away at the bill. Two hundred down, $500 to go.
-- Tyler Currie