THE HOSPITAL RECEPTIONIST punched in the patient's name. "Angie McCracken? Just got checked out."
"But I thought a woman gets to stay two days for a delivery! I can't believe they'd put her out this fast!"
"Well, she was checked in at 10 p.m. on Thursday, which counts as all day. She had a normal delivery. So she had to be out by Saturday at 11 a.m. Them's the rules. You know how strict insurance is, don'tcha?" She cracked her gum.
Louella nodded. "Can I see somebody about the hospital bill?"
"Are you kidding? If you're talking about paying, they'll always have time for you over in billing." She gave directions and Louella trotted down the hall.
"How can I help you, Ms. -?" asked the billing clerk.
"I'm Eleanor Preston," lied Louella, using her professional pseudonym. "I just wanted details on the hospital bill of a patient who just got checked out." She gave Angie's name.
"No, she's the girlfriend of my nephew. I wanted to know how they paid their bill."
"Well... that's private information, you know. Confidential. Hospital rules and all."
"Well, I don't think she has medical insurance, so the family wants to know what its liability's going to be."
"Well, to be frank, Miss Preston, there's actually no liability unless it's your own minor child or your spouse and you can afford to pay."
"You're kidding! You mean she got a free ride?"
"The records show she had no family doctor and no insurance, and no spouse or parent responsible. She presented at the emergency room ready to deliver. By law-you know, the COBRA law?-the hospital couldn't turn her away. We'd be wide open to a lawsuit if we did. So we have to just write off the expense."
"How can you afford to do that? I mean, don't you at least check to see if somebody connected to the patient has deep pockets?"
"I wish! We can get a judgment against the patient but we rarely can collect. That's just how it is."
"Well, can you tell me how much this would have cost if there'd been a bill?"
"I guess I can do that much," mused the clerk. "Looks like the bill would have run up to a little over $3,500. It's so cheap because there were no complications and she didn't have anesthesia."
"Well, thanks for the information," said Louella.
"Any time," shrugged the clerk.
Louella went to the rowhouse she rented to Mason, Angie, and now the new red-headed baby girl. The place was crowded with relatives, and the baby was being passed around from lap to lap.
Louella took Mason aside. "About the hospital bill-"
"Not to worry! We got it free! Our friends told us how to do it!"
"But shouldn't you pay your own way?"
Mason shrugged. "Why should we when we can get out of it? I mean, get wise! And by the way, Lou, we're gonna have to be late with the rent this month."