Why an 'outrageous' $169,600 medical bill actually got paid

Months after her back surgery, Debra Altman got a check – a really big check – from her insurance company. Later, she got the bill: $169,600.

The six-figure check that occupied a spot in their bank account had a habit of making Dave and Debra Altman a tad nervous.

The money, all $169,600 of it, wasn’t exactly theirs to keep, but it also didn’t seem right to simply forward it to a medical company run by an out-of-state whiskey distiller whose bill included a hand-written return address.

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And so the money sat.

For months.

What follows is a story that might say less about the actions of one Colorado couple and much more about the state of the American health care system.

At a time when the staggering cost of health care accounts for nearly one out of every five dollars spent in the U.S., far too often the system tends to reward those who charge the most.