On Sunday, Marlise Machado Muñoz — the brain-dead women who was forced to remain on life support against her family’s will because she was pregnant — was disconnected from a respirator after a months-long battle with the hospital that was caring for her. John Peter Smith Hospital finally agreed to relinquish her body to her family after a judge ordered it. Now, her husband Erick is finally beginning the process of saying goodbye to Muñoz and her unborn child, who he named Nicole.
But in the aftermath of the family’s personal tragedy, there are still some unanswered questions. It’s not guaranteed that Texas will actually change the arcane state law that allows hospitals to override women’s end-of-life wishes if they are pregnant. And it’s unclear who exactly will be responsible for paying the medical bills that resulted from Muñoz’s hospital stay, which stretched on for about nine weeks.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Erick Muñoz acknowledged that he has been receiving medical bills at his home — although he’s not sure exactly what he will be expected to pay.
“They have not come to me and said how that’s going to work,” he told CNN. “But I believe I’ve heard several media outlets…saying that they’ve asked about that. They have asked that question. They said they would continue normal billing.”
After ThinkProgress reached out to the John Peter Smith Hospital, a spokesperson explained that billing is part of Muñoz’s medical records, and is therefore covered under privacy laws. The hospital noted that although Eric Muñoz may say whatever he wants on the matter, its officials are not allowed to disclose details about billing unless he agrees to release his deceased wife’s medical records.
Hospital care is often prohibitively expensive for the average American. A recent report on the issue found that bills at hospitals have been steadily rising for nearly two decades, and some facilities now charge patients up to 10 times more than what the service is actually worth. Pregnancy-related care is a good illustration of this dynamic. The cost of giving birth can vary by tens of thousands dollars at different hospitals, and there’s no good reason for the discrepancy. Often, one catastrophic health event is enough to put a family in serious debt — by some estimates, medical bills are the leading cause of U.S. bankruptcies.