CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) â For years, Coleen Tolson was puzzled over what was wrong. She still felt tired.
She suffered from fainting spells. For a full year, she did not experience her menstrual cycle.
After moving to the Charlotte area, she finally found a doctor who could put a name to her health issues.
“I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (hypothyroidism),” Tolson said. “Before they told me what it was, I had never even heard of it.”
Long before she was diagnosed, Tolson was racking up medical bills from doctor visits, procedures and medications.
Tolson contacted WBTV after seeing our report on the Olivers, who are facing a lawsuit for unpaid medical bills accrued in just 24 hours in the emergency room.
Tolson was able to relate to their situation and spoke to WBTV about his journey to paying off his own medical debt.
“How often did you go to the doctor?” a WBTV reporter asked Tolson.
âOh my God, it seemed like every month was something new,â Tolson said.
âHow much did it cost? Â»
“I can’t even put a number on it, but at some point I went broke,” Tolson said.
“How hard was that decision?” the reporter asked Tolson.
âI needed financial help. There was nothing I could do at that time to get a card, leave where we are because it’s all based on your credit,â Tolson said.
Tolson is far from alone.
A study by the American Journal of Public Health found that nearly two-thirds of bankruptcies in the United States cite medical issues as a key factor in their financial downfall.
At its peak, Tolson’s medical debt was in the tens of thousands of dollars. This led to heartbreaking situations and choices.
âI was expelled once. Since I’m still working and I’m not a tramp and want to pay my bills and keep going, I was able to get by,â Tolson said.
Tolson said she sometimes works up to two and a half jobs to keep up.
She said her employer’s health plans were so poor that it was easier and cheaper to forego insurance and rely solely on self-pay discounts.
“Try to do that when you have a girl who’s always on the honor roll, she’s on a cheerleading team,” Tolson said. âShe needs you to show up and support her with different things. But mom has to go to work, you know, because she’s sick and the jobs she has their insurance is so high that it’s cheaper for you to pay when you actually need to see a doctor.
It took over ten years â but Tolson was finally able to get out of medical debt.
Recently, she had to see a doctor for a cut on her foot that was not healing properly.
Medical records provided by Tolson show the doctor referred her to the Mercy Atrium emergency room. Tolson said she was told she might have to have some toes amputated.
Her years-long struggle to pay her old medical bills weighed on her decision.
“I didn’t want to go there because I know the hospitals are expensive,” Tolson said.
But after she arrived in the emergency room and received medical attention, the worst-case scenario was no longer on the table.
Tolson did not need an amputation and all she left was a prescription for antibiotics that her doctor could have given her.
She was also hit with a bill.
Atrium’s invoice shows that the total cost of Tolson’s visit was over $4,000. However, Tolson qualified for coverage assistance and financial assistance. Tolson said an Atrium employee told her she would only have to pay a $50 co-pay.
Instead, she received a bill for over $500 and faces bills from other hospital procedures outside of Atrium’s network.
âIf that’s the health care system we have in place, we don’t have one in place. Not at all,â Tolson said.
A spokesperson for Atrium did not respond to questions from WBTV about Tolson’s ER visit after initially acknowledging our email.
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