Nate Christopher has been fighting medical bills and insurance troubles when he needed to be caring for his child.
Christopher is the former host of Mugs in the Morning on KODY/Husker Radio in North Platte. He left North Platte five months ago to manage a cluster of radio stations in Scottsbluff.
He is also the proud father of a five-month-old son, Rylan, born Dec. 27.
Little Rylan has been in and out of hospitals since Feb. 6, when his mother Autumn found him turning purple on a Friday afternoon.
Autumn rushed her baby to the Scottsbluff hospital, where he spent three hours in the emergency room. A monitor showed his oxygen level was dangerously low. Puzzled physicians ordered a battery of tests – a CT scan, an EKG, X-rays, etc.
an infection of the the tiny airways of the respiratory tract.
That night, Rylan stayed in the hospital overnight.
Before the baby could leave the next morning, he let out a violent, heart rending scream. He couldn’t get any air, Nate said, and he stopped breathing. Quickly, the hospital room filled with physicians and nurses, who were able to resuscitate him.
Then little Rylan was life-flighted to Denver Children’s Hospital, where he stayed for more than four days. Denver physicians also said the trouble was bronchiolitis.
After the Christophers returned to Scottsbluff, their baby turned purple again about a week later. Again, the Christophers rushed to the hospital. The baby was put back on oxygen. When he went home this time, he went with a heart monitor and an oxygen dispenser. An t like, but the family managed.
Nate and Autumn often take turns taking care of the baby. Autumn works part time at a nursing home, mostly on weekends. When she is at worl, Nate works from home, so the baby has constant attention.
The Christophers returned to North Platte the weekend of April 25-27 to attend the Ben Sasse campaign rally, the Lincoln County Country Bluegrass Festival, and say hello to friends and family.
At that point, the baby had been okay for weeks, but at noon April 25, he struggled again to get his breath.
They rushed to Great Plains Regional Medical Center, where the baby was diagnosed with double pneumonia and RSV, a respiratory ailment. He was at the medical center from noon Friday until 2:30 p.m. Sunday, before he was okayed to return home to Scottsbluff.
His parents give him a breathing treatment every four hours to open his lungs and airways. Rylan doesn’t mind, and the process is easier than administering oxygen, Nate said.
But, the bills and insurance are big headaches, Nate said.
So far, bills have rolled in from the Scottsbluff and Denver hospitals amounting to a whopping $180,000. The helicopter trip alone to Denver was $44,000.
The Christophers have Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance through Autumn’s employer. It seemed like good insurance, but it's far from perfect, and it's the best they could find.
“My company insurance is ridiculous,” Nate said.
“I’d say we are average insurance holders,” he said. “We have a $2,000 deductible with a maximum of $17,000 in out-of-pocket expenses per year.”
“I think that means we shouldn’t have to pay more than $17,000 for all this,” Nate said, “but I’m not sure. We received an insurance check for $15,000 for the helicopter ride, leaving about $31,000 in unpaid bills for that. They (BCBS) considers Denver Children’s Hospital to be out of the approved network, so the ride was costly."
And, Christopher expects another $20,000 in bills for the baby’s weekend stay at Great Plains Regional Medical Center.
Equally irritating and worrisome were the letters the Christophers received from the insurance company throughout the process. The Christophers received regular questionnaires from BCBS about his family’s health – one of the last things they wanted to deal with.
“Each one was about five pages long,” Nate said. “It seemed like we got one every time a new (medical) claim was sent to the insurance company. Each survey said they (BCBS) wouldn’t pay a claim until it was filled out.”
“I’m setting there, worrying about my kid and how to take care of him,” Nate said. “But I’m also worrying about bills and insurance. It seems like insurance just puts you in a place to fill out surveys when you are struggling.”
“It shouldn’t be this difficult,” he said.
He said the entire process kills people's ambition.
“My job as a parent is to keep my kid healthy and safe. When you take that ability away from me, you practically take away the incentive to try.”
Christopher said Obamacare has certainly not reduced medical costs for people who earn a middle class income.
“I would say our family is in the middle of the middle class,” he said. “We are carrying the brunt of everything. It’s going to crush us.”
When Christopher was in North Platte in late April, he took advantage of his media credentials to talk with some of the well-known Republicans who came to North Platte to campaign for Sasse -- including Sen. Ted Cruz, a leading critic of Obamacare and a possible contender for president someday.
“Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have an answer (to the healthcare quagmire,)” Christopher said. “I told Ted Cruz if he can fix that, he will have my full support."
This report was first published in the Bulletin's April 30 print edition.