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7-year-old's lemonade fundraiser reveals how families struggle to pay medical bills

Lemonade for Liza. (WBMA)
Lemonade for Liza. (WBMA)
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Update: Liza and her family have arrived in Boston and are preparing for her surgery on Monday. We wish her well!

HOMEWOOD, Ala (WBMA) — At first glance Liza Scott's hard work to help her family pay medical bills will tug at your heartstrings. The seven year old is scheduled for surgery next Monday in Boston. She's raised thousands of dollars in donations by selling lemonade at the family's business in Homewood, Savages Bakery.

But then comes the question - why is a seven year old worried about medical bills? Doctors and non-profit organizations say it is an indictment of what's wrong with our health care system. It's a troubling picture they see all too often, families desperately worried about how they will cover surgeries and hospital stays. High deductibles and co-pays are simply unaffordable for many. One study found half of American households are worried a major medical event would bankrupt the family.

"It's incredibly common. They can't get care. They're denied care. Their plans are too restrictive," says Cardiologist Dr. David Fieno of the struggles he sees with patients. He tells us some patients just give up.

In Liza's case, her mother says while they do have insurance it will not come close to covering everything. She has already received thousands of dollars in bills from Liza's initial trips to Children's of Alabama in Birmingham after Liza began having seizures.

Liza has three malformations in her brain that need surgery. The operations will be done at a children's hospital in Boston where surgeons are very experienced in the particular procedures. That will mean added costs since the hospital is "out of network." There will also be travel expenses.

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"What is point of insurance if it doesn't cover the care you need?" questions Dr. Fieno.

"We have no idea what it will and won't cover. Just a one week stay and ambulance rides is thousands of dollars out of pocket," says Elizabeth Scott. She says it was her daughter's idea to sell lemonade as she has past summers.

In Alabama 9.7% are uninsured with scores more underinsured with catastrophic plans. Those plans have very high deductibles and co-pays.

"It would be great if we didn't have to worry about anything but take care of our children," remarked Scott. The family's story has been shared by many news organizations in Alabama and across the country.

Data from the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation shows while health insurance deductibles have risen 111% over the past decade, wages are up just 27%. The average family deductible in the state is around $3,000, for a single person it is $1,600.

"There is some evidence higher costs lead to people delaying care or going without," remarked Matthew Rea with the Kaiser Foundation.

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Doctors say we need to take a good hard look at where our health dollars are actually going and how it is impacting care. "It's about a thousand layers of insurance and bureaucratic red tape which is entirely unnecessary," said Dr. Fieno. In the end he says patients are paying the price.

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