Mary Lou Retton tries to explain why she can’t afford health insurance

HOFFMAN ESTATES, IL – FEBRUARY 21: Mary Lou Retton, former Olympic gold medalist in women’s gymnastics, looks on during the 2009 Tyson American Cup at the Sears Center on February 21, 2009 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Mary Lou Retton’s family announced in October that she had been hospitalized and was seriously ill with a rare form of pneumonia, many fans were horrified to learn that the 1984 Olympic champion, who had supposedly won millions of endorsement contracts over the years, no health insurance.

During an interview on the “Today” show on Monday, Retton, 55, revealed she couldn’t afford insurance before she was hospitalized. The retired gold medal gymnast explained that it was simply too expensive for her to buy insurance as a newly single woman with a history of surgery.

“When COVID hit and after my divorce and all my previous (conditions) — I mean, I had over 30 surgeries on orthopedic things — I couldn’t afford it… That’s the bottom line: I couldn’t afford it,” he said Reton before the host of “Today” Hoda Kotb.

“But who would have ever known that this would happen to me?” said Retton, who also explained that he was already “all set” with insurance.

Because of the lack of coverage when she was checked into an unnamed Houston hospital, Shayla Schrepfer, the oldest of Retton’s four daughters, said the family had to start a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the bill for her treatment. Over the next several weeks, the Spotfund campaign raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Retton, a star medalist at the 1984 Olympics. As of Monday, the campaign had raised a total of $459,000.

Retton’s hospital bill must have been huge. On Monday, she revealed that she had spent a month in the hospital, much of that time in intensive care. At one point, she said, her condition became so dire that doctors considered putting her on a machine, and her four daughters said goodbye to her.

Among people on social media, the idea that Retton’s family had to ask strangers to pay for what was expected to be a huge hospital bill prompted a number of questions and reactions in October. At the top of the list: Why didn’t Retton have health insurance? And what kind of country is the United States if even a legendary sports figure like Retton — once called “America’s Sweetheart” — can’t pay for an emergency hospital stay?

When Retton’s daughters declined to comment on their mother’s lack of insurance, “out of respect for her and her privacy,” people online were left to speculate whether the retired athlete chose to forgo health insurance or somehow lost coverage or has been you can get coverage.

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