SAN ANTONIO – After Ernest Faris fell 20 feet off of an extension ladder at his Comal County property in August 2018, he did not feel his most serious injury at first.
The zig-zag gash to his triceps that went all the way to the bone was Faris’ biggest concern as he was first taken by ambulance to a nearby high school and then airlifted to Brooke Army Medical Center.
After Faris arrived at the Level I trauma center, doctors discovered that he had also broken his neck.
After surgery, Faris was left with staples starting from the back of his head and reaching down past his shoulder blades.
Two sets of screws continue to permanently help stabilize his neck.
Faris, who said that BAMC staff took excellent care of him during his five-day stay, did not have health insurance at the time of his injury.
After being discharged, Faris received a bill that, according to his family, has swelled well into the six figures.
“The woman that I talked to at the hospital told me, ‘With the size of the bill that you have, there’s nothing we can do to help you,’” Faris said.
Records provided by Faris show that in early March, the U.S. Department of the Treasury seized his and his wife’s nearly $2,500 tax refund.
Faris’ debt from the hospital at that point was over $153,000, according to records provided by his family.
Faris said at one point, he was told the medical bill would have to be paid off within three years, which would require him to pay well over $4,000 a month, a sum he cannot afford.
“It’s eating at me every day. I think they ought to work with hardworking people more,” said Faris.
Since Faris is not active duty military, a retiree or a covered family member, he is responsible for the full health care bill, according to BAMC billing policy.
“I’m not the same like I was before.”
Guillermo Rocha’s stay at BAMC occurred more than three years ago, and he is still dealing with a bill that has grown to over $40,000.
“Sometimes I can’t sleep because I think they are going to do this or do that,” said Rocha, who suffered a number of injuries in April 2017, including a collapsed lung, 11 broken ribs and a broken collarbone after the arm of a backhoe knocked him off of a trailer holding trees.
“I immediately jumped off and got to him, and he wasn’t moving,” said Arthur Trejo, the owner of a landscape company who was working with Rocha near downtown the day he got seriously injured.
Trejo said Rocha was first taken by ambulance to Downtown Baptist Hospital, but Rocha was then transferred to BAMC because of the extent of his injuries.
Rocha said he stayed in the hospital for 11 days.
“I’m not the same like I was before,” said Rocha, who was eventually able to return to work after extensive physical therapy.
Rocha, like Faris, had his tax refund seized by the government.
Rocha’s treatment at BAMC should have been covered since Trejo had workers’ compensation insurance.
However, the company handling the claim had been unable to get BAMC to provide an itemized bill for Rocha’s treatment, despite sending certified letters month after month.
The company sent BAMC a request as recently as April, according to officials from the third-party claims adjuster handling Rocha’s case.
The KSAT 12 Defenders reached out to officials with BAMC regarding Faris’ and Rocha’s billing issues.
A BAMC spokeswoman released the following statement:
“BAMC works closely with patients and families to ensure they have the information they need to navigate the billing process. We have reached out to Mr. Faris and Mr. Rocha directly to address their concerns. We encourage our patients to contact the BAMC Uniform Business Office (UBO) if they have any billing questions and also to reach out to their insurance carrier to clarify their policy and coverage. To contact UBO, email email@example.com or call 916-8563/5772. UBO can help validate bills and assist with insurance claims and payment plans. As always, BAMC is honored and proud to provide world-class healthcare to our community and our Nation.”
On Wednesday night, the Defenders learned that after our inquiry, BAMC officials finally provided the proper uniform billing form. This clears the way for Rocha’s medical bill to be paid.
However, Rocha could still be forced to pay for late fees and collection charges related to it.