KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Becky Johnson knows it’s nothing short of a miracle that she’s still alive and able to walk around her Johnson County neighborhood with her fiancé and his sister by her side.
Last October she was given a 20% chance of survival after contracting COVID-19.
“It was like an elephant on my chest,” the 59-year-old said.
Her last memory of that time was fighting to breath as she was being admitted to KU Hospital. She woke up nearly two months later.
She had spent 48 days on a ventilator, fighting not only COVID-19 but also sepsis and an aggressive form of leukemia called AML. They were all problems she was diagnosed with after she was admitted. Her cancer was spreading so rapidly that KU doctors gave her chemo treatments while she was still on the ventilator.
To make a bad situation even worse, Johnson, who had recently quit her job and moved to Kansas City to be with her fiancé, no longer had health insurance.
Her medical bills were mounting, in total more than $2 million.
Her fiancé Stephen Smith was hopeful all her care would be covered by the federal CARES Act, which includes provisions to help the uninsured pay for COVID-19 treatments.
But Smith said every time he asked KU about CARES Act coverage, he said he was told it probably wouldn’t apply because of the multiple diagnoses Johnson was facing, including sepsis and leukemia.
Still Smith read everything about the CARES Act he could find during those long hours at Johnson’s bedside disagreed and kept pushing. So did his sister Annette, who’s also a nurse. But both said they kept getting told no.
What Smith and his sister didn’t realize is that, behind the scenes, KU was hard at work trying to get that CARES Act coverage.
Colette Lasack, who oversees KU’s patient billing division, said KU wanted the CARES Act to apply just as much as Smith did, but the hospital was unsure whether it would succeed and didn’t want to give anyone false hope.
“To think a patient can afford a bill of a couple of hundred thousand, let alone a couple million, we know that’s not possible,” Lasack said. “But there are few things more complex than sepsis when it comes to medical billing.”
Sepsis was Johnson’s primary diagnosis. The problem is the CARES Act only picks up the tab for medical care when COVID-19 is the primary diagnosis. But since COVID-19 can lead to sepsis, it became a question of which came first — the chicken or the egg. KU kept arguing to include Johnson’s case with CARES Act administrators.
Here’s the good news, KU told FOX4 Problem Solvers that Johnson’s more than $2 million bill appears to have been approved for coverage under the federal act.
And there’s more good news: KU signed Johnson up for health insurance before releasing her from the hospital. So even though she has a long road of recovery ahead, she no longer has to worry about the cost.
Johnson said she’s grateful to everyone at KU for saving her life. She’s now waiting for her lungs to heal from COVID-19 so that she’ll be strong enough to have a bone marrow transplant for her leukemia.