Published by NPR

In her late 20s and attending college in Texas, Elizabeth Moreno suffered from debilitating back pain caused by a spinal abnormality. “I just could not live with the pain,” she says. “I couldn’t get dressed by myself, I couldn’t walk across my house, let alone to class, and nothing, no drug that had been prescribed to me, even dulled the pain.”

Moreno says she also tried chiropractic medicine and acupuncture, but they didn’t make the pain go away. Finally, a doctor at the student health center referred her to an orthopedic specialist who performed tests and concluded a disk was blocking nerves down her legs and needed to be removed. Moreno’s father, a retired Ohio doctor who had seen many failed back surgeries over his career, agreed it was the best course.

In late 2015, Moreno had the operation in Houston, which she described as “a complete success.” She gave it little thought when the surgical office asked her to leave a urine sample for a drug test.

Then the bill came.

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