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Tampa mail carrier bitten by snake now pinched by bill collectors

Mail carrier Efrain Arango, 66, is treated by nurse Joe Pittman, a snakebite treatment specialist, at University Community Hospital on Oct. 10. Arango spent three nights in the hospital after being bitten by a rattlesnake that was lurking in a mailbox. He racked up $90,000 in medical bills, which are now past due.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Mail carrier Efrain Arango, 66, is treated by nurse Joe Pittman, a snakebite treatment specialist, at University Community Hospital on Oct. 10. Arango spent three nights in the hospital after being bitten by a rattlesnake that was lurking in a mailbox. He racked up $90,000 in medical bills, which are now past due.

NEW TAMPA — Mail carrier Efrain Arango may have made a full recovery from a venomous snakebite back in October, but lately, he's been dealing with a different kind of pain: bill collectors.

Arango racked up almost $90,000 in medical bills during his stay at University Community Hospital, where he received morphine and antivenin after the Oct. 10 bite. Arango, a contract employee, does not have insurance.

"We are not rich," Arango's brother, Ariolfo Arango, said. "We have no money to pay them."

Efrain Arango, 66, was reaching into a mailbox at a home in Live Oak Preserve when he was bitten on the left index finger by a rattlesnake. He finished his deliveries in the community, across the street from Wharton High School, before driving 6 miles to the New Tampa postal station.

Efrain Arango spent three nights in the hospital and returned to work. He drives a school bus in the mornings and afternoons for $1,400 a month and delivers mail during the day for $1,000 a month to try to pay some of the $25,000 in student loan debt that his youngest daughter accumulated on her way to a criminal justice degree.

"I cannot sleep at night," Efrain Arango said recently. "To me, it's like a billion dollars. I don't know what to do. I'm alone."

Hospital officials declined to comment on Arango's situation, citing privacy laws. However, generally speaking, patients who cannot pay their bills have several options, said Phoebe Ochman, spokeswoman for UCH.

If asked, the hospital works with patients to see if they qualify for discounted rates, charity care or any federal medical assistance programs.

"If there's an outstanding bill, we do try and work with the patient before it gets to the extent of going to collection," Ochman said.

Officials at the Postal Service said they are not liable for Arango's medical bills because he is a delivery service contractor.

"It's an interesting case," said Gary Sawtelle, spokesman for the post office. "But the contract itself states that they do not receive any medical or leave benefits."

Tampa mail carrier bitten by snake now pinched by bill collectors 12/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 8:50pm]
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