Blake Farmer/WPLN News
Jason and DeeAnn Dean recently relocated to her hometown of Dellrose, Tenn., where she grew up on a farm. Both in their late 40s, they’re trying to start a green dream business that combines organic farming with a health and wellness consulting company. They want to inspire people to grow their own food in this fertile rolling farmland just north of the border with Alabama.
Until the business fully launches, Jason is working in construction. In May, he was injured on the job site when a piece of sheet metal slipped and caught him on the kneecap. He bled quite a bit. After closing the wound with a butterfly bandage, he thought that might be enough. But on his drive home, he figured it would be best to have a professional stitch it up.
It was late in the day, and the emergency room seemed the best option since his doctor’s office was closed. He and DeeAnn had opted for a health plan with lower monthly payments and a high deductible. So he knew the cost of care wouldn’t be cheap — and he was right. When the bills for thousands of dollars came, they were shocked. They were in the midst of fighting them in August when DeeAnn started feeling as bad as she has ever felt.
“I haven’t eaten. I’m not drinking. I have a horrible fever. I can’t get out of bed. I’m shaking,” she said.
She was pretty sure she had contracted COVID-19 — the delta variant was surging across the South. She was kicking herself for putting off vaccination. She got tested and the result was negative. The next day, she visited a doctor who said her condition was bad enough to go to the ER — but she regarded that option as financially perilous.
“That is fear,” said DeeAnn. “If they charged Jason this much, what would they charge me?”
She was terrified of a potential bill from the same ER in Pulaski, Tenn., that had treated her husband. So even though she was deliriously ill, she hit the road in search of cheaper treatment, asking her parents to drive her. They headed south. The first stop was an ER in Huntsville, Ala., but it was so full of COVID-19 patients that she would have had to wait all day. Then they drove north nearly an hour to Maury Regional Medical Center, a public hospital in Columbia, Tenn., where she was