Two Orlando-area hospitals are waiving the medical bills of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, praising the community response and saying they want to contribute.
More than 50 people were wounded in the June 12 attack on the Florida gay nightclub, and 49 people died.
Orlando Regional Medical Center has treated 44 victims of the shooting — more than any other hospital. The center's parent company, Orlando Health, says it will not charge victims for their treatment, reports Abe Aboraya of member station WMFE.
"Instead, the hospital will look at federal and state funds, victims' funds like the One Orlando fund, and private funds raised for victims," Aboraya reports for our Newscast unit. "The hospital will bill insurance if a patient has it, but it will not go after a patient's copays.
"The same goes for the nine patients who came to the hospital and died," he says.
The hospital expects about $5 million in unreimbursed costs.
Orlando Health CEO David Strong released a statement calling the shooting a "horrendous tragedy."
"During this very trying time, many organizations, individuals, and charities have reached out to Orlando Health to show their support," he said. "This is simply our way of paying that kindness forward."
A second medical center, Florida Hospital, will also be waiving fees for the 12 victims it treated, Aboraya reports. The hospital says there are about $535,400 in expenses in those cases.
"But the hospital has gone a step further, saying it will not bill insurance either, and any continuing care patients need will also be free of charge," Aboraya says.
"We hope this gesture can add to the heart and goodwill that defines Orlando," the CEO of Florida Hospital, Daryl Tol, said in a statement.
Aboraya has previously reported for NPR and Kaiser Health News about the medical bills that were accruing for victims of the attack. Mario Perez, who was shot in the side and cut by broken glass, said he had an initial bill of $20,000 — not counting any specialist visits.
Perez had no health insurance and says, "I'm pretty excited they're willing to go ahead and [forgive that debt]. I know it's a lot of money involved," Perez said. "That's one headache I don't have to worry about."
Embry Howell, a senior fellow at the think tank the Urban Institute, told Aboraya that many of the other victims who received treatment likely had no insurance.
"They're young, primarily Latino and living in Florida," she told Aboraya, noting that Florida is one of the states that have opted out of the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act. "My guess would be you have a high rate of uninsured."
So for many victims, the waiving of their hospital bills may be a huge relief.
But in a post on The Stranger, Dan Savage argues this is "a feel bad story disguised as a feel good story." The fact that shooting victims face massive medical bills in the first place is "an indictment of our society," he says.
"There are people who were shot in Orlando around the same time, maybe even on the same night (this is America), who are also facing crushing medical bills," Savage writes. "But their bills won't be forgiven. ... Are they less deserving of our support?"