Health & Fitness

Statesman readers help Boise mom pay off hospital bill from baby daughter’s tragic death

Her premature baby lived for two days. She’ll be paying bills for years.

Lindsey Johnson's tiny daughter was born 17 weeks premature. She's filled with grief — and weighed by hospital bills.
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Lindsey Johnson's tiny daughter was born 17 weeks premature. She's filled with grief — and weighed by hospital bills.

Lindsey Johnson lost her daughter, Stella, almost exactly a year ago. The baby girl was born 17 weeks premature and survived just two days in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Thousands of dollars in medical bills followed Johnson and her husband home from the hospital. So did debt collectors, who have called Johnson several times a day. The parents — who are now divorcing — had been paying those medical bills. But a year after Stella’s death, they still had more than a year of monthly payments left.

The Idaho Statesman wrote about the family’s situation, and what it says about American health care, in a front-page story Sunday. The hospital had told Johnson it would take a smaller lump-sum payment to settle her $1,600 debt, and that gave her enough money to pay it off for good.

“The thing that frustrates me is thinking about the families that go into debt over medical bills, and that there’s people who just, with the snap of a finger, could reduce it — just because,” Johnson told the Statesman in an interview for the Sunday story. “And there’s people who suffer so immensely from these bills that are just the (dollar amount) they are for no reason.”

By Monday afternoon, Johnson had received more than $800 in donations.

“We ... were able to make a one-time payment ending our medical bill nightmare tied to the tragedy of losing our daughter. Thank you all so much for rallying behind us and holding us up!” she wrote on Twitter.

“I’m so humbled that so many people I don’t know personally have donated to our GoFundMe in the year it’s been up,” Johnson told the Statesman on Tuesday. “People continue to amaze me with their goodness and generosity, and I’m so grateful I’ve been able to see that firsthand through this experience.”

‘Shouldn’t have to crowdfund to pay for our children’s death’

But, as the Statesman reported Sunday, more than 100 Idaho babies are stillborn or die as newborns each year. Nationwide, more than 22,000 infants died in 2017, according to the CDC.

A large share of those babies’ parents must pay out-of-pocket costs for delivery, NICU and other services. Some may end up in collections and can even be sued over the bills.

Thousands more babies are born prematurely or with serious health conditions each year and need expensive care in an NICU, an intensive care unit for infants. Even those who go home with their parents may have years of therapy, surgeries and hospital stays ahead of them.

Thousands of crowdfunding efforts on GoFundMe say they’re raising funds to pay for a baby’s medical care or to help a family who lost a baby.

“At the end of the day, even though (people donating to pay off medical bills) is such an amazing thing, we shouldn’t have to crowdfund to pay for our children’s deaths,” Johnson said. “The system is broken.”

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Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. She also worked as a reporter in Maryland, Minneapolis and New York. Audrey hails from Twin Falls.
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