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Donations helping pay medical bills

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 10:08 p.m. MDT

FILE - From left, a microprocessor controlled ankle/foot prosthetic, a shock foot vertical loading pylon prosthetic and a flexible keel foot prosthetic, are displayed at the Orthotic Prosthetic Center in Fairfax, Va. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. More than 200 were injured in the Boston Marathon bombings and no one knows yet what the total medical costs will be. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Associated Press) FILE - From left, a microprocessor controlled ankle/foot prosthetic, a shock foot vertical loading pylon prosthetic and a flexible keel foot prosthetic, are displayed at the Orthotic Prosthetic Center in Fairfax, Va. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. More than 200 were injured in the Boston Marathon bombings and no one knows yet what the total medical costs will be. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Associated Press)

Cost of amputating a leg? At least $20,000. Cost of an artificial leg? More than $50,000 for the most high-tech models. Cost of an amputee's rehab? Often tens of thousands of dollars more.

These are just a fraction of the medical expenses victims of the Boston Marathon bombing will face.

The mammoth price tag is probably not what patients are focusing on as they begin the long healing process. But friends and strangers are already setting up fundraisers and online crowd-funding sites, and a huge Boston city fund has already collected more than $23 million in individual and corporate donations.

No one knows yet if those donations — plus health insurance, hospital charity funds and other sources — will be enough to cover the bills. Few will even hazard a guess as to what the total medical bill will be for a tragedy that killed three people and wounded more than 270. At least 15 people lost limbs, and other wounds include head injuries and tissue torn apart by shrapnel.

More than $23 million in individual and corporate donations have been collected to help pay victims' bills.   (Associated Press) More than $23 million in individual and corporate donations have been collected to help pay victims' bills. (Associated Press)

Health insurance, as practically anyone who has ever gotten hurt or sick knows, does not always cover all costs. In the case of artificial limbs, for example, some insurance companies pay for a basic model but not a computerized one with sophisticated, lifelike joints.

Rose Bissonnette, founder of the New England Amputee Association, said that the moment she heard about the bombings, she knew immediately that her organization's services would be needed. The advocacy group helps amputees navigate things such as insurance coverage for artificial limbs.

Bissonnette shared one group member's struggle to get coverage for artificial arms as an example of the red tape some bombing victims could face. The woman "got a call from the insurance company and the person on the other end said, 'How long are you going to need the prosthetic hands?' " Bissonnette recalled.

Bissonnette herself was in a horrific car crash 16 years ago that left her with injuries similar to those facing the Boston victims. Her mangled lower left leg had to be amputated and her right ankle was partially severed. Her five-month hospital stay cost more than $250,000. Health insurance covered all her treatment, rehab and her prosthesis.

Health economist Ted Miller noted that treating just one traumatic brain injury can cost millions of dollars, and at least one survivor has that kind of injury. He also pointed out that the medical costs will include treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress — "an issue for a whole lot more people than just people who suffered physical injuries," he said.

This 2011 photo provided by Rose Bissonnette shows her, the founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, in Manchester, N.H. Bissonnette said the moment she heard about the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings, she knew immediately that her organization?s services would be needed. The advocacy group helps amputees navigate things like insurance coverage for artificial limbs. More than 200 were injured in the bombings and no one knows yet what the total medical costs will be. (AP Photo/Rose Bissonnette) (Charles Krupa, Associated Press) This 2011 photo provided by Rose Bissonnette shows her, the founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, in Manchester, N.H. Bissonnette said the moment she heard about the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings, she knew immediately that her organization?s services would be needed. The advocacy group helps amputees navigate things like insurance coverage for artificial limbs. More than 200 were injured in the bombings and no one knows yet what the total medical costs will be. (AP Photo/Rose Bissonnette) (Charles Krupa, Associated Press)

Adding to the tragedy's toll will be lost wages for those unable to work, including two Massachusetts brothers who each lost a leg, Miller said. They had been roofers but may have to find a new line of work.

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