CARBONDALE, IL—Doctors at Southern Illinois Hospital confirmed Monday that Dale Monfort, a 39-year-old lymphatic-cancer sufferer who underwent emergency surgery last week, has just six months to pay.
"Breaking that kind of news to a patient is never easy," said Dr. Albert Sutin, who performed the six-hour, $30,840 procedure to remove a malignant mass in one of Monfort's lymph nodes. "To look a man in the face and tell him he's got, at the very most, half a year to get his affairs in order, well, it's one of the toughest things a doctor has to do."
In total, Monfort's operation and five-day hospital stay cost $44,172.46, with full payment due no later than Jan. 30, 2000.
"At first, his outlook seemed excellent," Sutin said. "But when Mr. Monfort's results tal came back from the billing department, we were forced to change our assessment of his financial condition."
"As soon as we opened up his file, we saw it—a recent job change had left him without active health insurance for the month of August," Sutin said. "Quite frankly, at that point, we knew there was little we could do to help him."
Unable to halt the uncontrolled growth of the bill, doctors referred Monfort to Marlene Davidoff, head of the hospital's renowned FlexPay program. Upon reviewing his records, Smith estimated that there is only a 10 percent chance his already-depleted bank accounts would be able to handle the massive withdrawals necessary in the final stages of repayment.
"Unfortunately, I don't see much hope," Davidoff said. "If he were a young, physically active, non-smoking lawyer or investment banker, then I'd say he'd have a good shot at beating this. But a between-jobs high-school guidance counselor? You just don't see those types recovering from this sort of thing."
Monfort, who has a long family history of billing problems, said he "immediately knew something was wrong by the look on the specialist's face."
"These doctors know what they're doing," a visibly shaken Monfort said. "They don't usually send in their top payment counselor to talk to a financially healthy man. The second I saw him, I knew they'd discovered something terribly wrong deep within my body of credit."
Monfort, who has been hemorrhaging funds ever since he was diagnosed with cancer on May 11, was immediately placed within the hospital's high-risk group. The billing department is not planning to enlist the assistance of a credit-reconstruction specialist, however, saying that in light of Monfort's already failing financial health, it would not be worth the risk.
In the meantime, Monfort has been tying up loose ends, using what precious little time he has left to visit members of his extended family and make contact with friends he hasn't seen in years, some of whom may be able to loan him money.
"Dale's a fighter. He'll lick this thing yet," said Scott Roth, an old college roommate whom Monfort recently called to collect on an outstanding $200 debt from 1978. "I'm willing to help him out as much as I can. But, ultimately, it's got to come from him."
Monfort said he is trying to put his plight into perspective and take stock of his life.
"News like this really makes you reexamine your valuables," Monfort said. "It forces you to ask yourself what's really important to you and what you're willing to let go of at a garage sale."
"In a way," Monfort continued, "this has been good for me. It's made me realize just how much the little things were costing me. Things like flowers for my wife or an ice-cream cone for my daughter."
Specialists at the hospital say Monfort's positive attitude greatly increases his likelihood of payment.
"When a patient skips the 'denial' phase of coping with medical billing crises, we have a much greater chance of recovering our funds," said Bob Gilliam, chief financial officer at the hospital. "What we have to watch out for now, though, is the equally dangerous 'bargaining' phase. Dale must realize that there's no getting around this. He needs to face this bill head-on, because no matter how much he wishes it would, it's not going to go away."