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A Nobel Prize-winning physicist sold his medal for $765,000 to pay medical bills

Only in America.

World Science Festival
Physicist Leon Lederman sold his 2012 Nobel Prize medal to pay mounting health care bills.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images for World Science Festival

Leon Lederman won a Nobel Prize in 1988 for his pioneering physics research.

But in 2015, the physicist, who passed away Wednesday, sold his Nobel Prize medal for $765,000 to pay his mounting medical bills. The University of Chicago professor began to suffer from memory loss in 2011, and died in an Idaho nursing home.

In a lot of ways (and as others have observed) Lederman’s story represents the best and worst of America. Lederman was born in the 1920s to a father who worked in a laundry facility. He went on to discover the Higgs boson subatomic particle, the so-called “God particle” that you can read more about here.

But even an accomplished physicist and university professor isn’t immune from America’s sky-high health care prices. The United States routinely has health care prices well-above the rest of the world. A day in an American hospital, for examples, costs an average of $5,220 here — compared to $765 in Australia or $424 in Spain.

Soo Oh/Vox

The cost of receiving care in a nursing home can also present a significant burden. A private room in a nursing facility costs, on average, $7,698 per month. And Medicare, which covers the vast majority of Americans over 65, generally does not cover long-term nursing care.

Many Americans do end up getting Medicaid to cover nursing home bills — but that often requires selling off significant assets and dwindling down savings in order to fall below the public program’s income requirements.

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