CREVE COEUR -- St. John's Mercy Medical Center has written off as charity an Amish woman's $23,273 hospital bill for treatment she received after a deadly highway pileup in 2008.
The woman, Anna Eicher, was the subject of a Post-Dispatch story on Sunday about her struggles to pay bills after an inattentive trucker on Highway 40 crashed into the van they had hired to transport the Amish to a funeral in Tennessee. Three people, including Eicher's father and cousin, were killed in the multi-car crash July 15, 2008, and 15 people were injured.
Eicher, of Kahoka, Mo., learned of the hospital's actions Thursday after the Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of the St. John's paperwork showing her bill reduced to $0.
"They're very kind to do it," Eicher said of the hospital. "If it comes to the point we have money to spare, I will make a donation."
"I have a very thankful heart," she added.
St. John's officials say the charges were written off because they knew Eicher was uninsured and had received nothing from the trucker's $1 million liability insurance policy. The charity writeoff is for the hospital charges only and has nothing to do with the thousands more owed for her other medical treatment, such as radiology and chiropractic services. She owes $2,360 to a radiology group and $6,624 to a chiropractor.
While other victims filed suits, none of the Amish did. It is against their Amish beliefs to do so. The trucker, who told police he'd been reaching for his cell phone, pleaded guilty of three counts of involuntary manslaughter and spent a year in jail.
On Friday, Peggy Burroughs, executive director of patient financial services at St. John's, confirmed that the nonprofit hospital has written off the bill to charity. It is part of the mission of the Sisters of Mercy to provide care for those in need, Burroughs said.
She said the hospital adjusted the charges on June 30 after learning that the "benefits were exhausted;" specifically, the trucker's insurance money had run out.
But the hospital never sent Eicher a letter notifying her of the zero balance -- and she continued getting medical bills connected to the crash, as recently as this fall. The hospital also didn't inform her of the zero balance when Eicher and a family friend, Dan Gilliam, called the hospital last month to ask about the bills. Burroughs said the hospital staffer was never asked directly about the balance during that phone call, only if payments had been made.
Eicher never filled out paperwork with the hospital to reduce her bills because an insurance adjustor for the trucker's insurance company told Eicher shortly after the crash to send him all her bills and they would be taken care of. She thought they had been covered until she started getting bills again this fall.
Eicher's story generated an immediate response from readers who wanted to know how they could help. Eicher said she has received letters and several donations this week. A friend of hers set up a fund at the Kahoka State Bank on Monday to help administer any donations that come in for Eicher or the three other Amish victims who survived the crash.
"I do welcome it," Eicher said. "I wish it wouldn't have to be this way. Even a widow sent me some money and told me to let her know if she could ever be of additional (financial) help. How could I ever do that? She's a widow. She needs the money more than I do."
Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and an expert on the Amish, said that while the Amish often depend on their own Amish communities to pay staggering bills, there are dozens of examples across the country of outsiders contributing to the Amish.
Another option for Eicher could have been the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which pays up to $25,000 to crime victims for expenses such as hospital bills, a funeral and prescriptions. However, Eicher was never told of the fund and she never applied for its benefits. She can't do it now because applications must be made within two years of the incident, a state official told the Post-Dispatch this week. Besides, Eicher says, for the past 2 1/2 years, she always thought the insurance company was paying her bills.
The Post-Dispatch learned about the zero balance this week and obtained a copy of Eicher's medical bill from Gilliam, whom Eicher had authorized to deal with St. John's on her behalf. Because Eicher has no telephone, Gilliam has been acting as the go-between with the hospital in this matter. Gilliam asked the hospital to fax him the updated version of the bill on Wednesday afternoon.