The metal implant was manufactured by Depuy, a device maker swept up in a large recall last year. Harriet's model wasn't among those recalled.
"But it was leaching chromium and cobalt into her blood, so the doctor said she should get it replaced," Stephens said.
Stephens had just laid off most of the staff at his Park City real estate firm, causing a spike in the price to maintain his family health plan.
Even after switching to a high deductible plan, he was looking at $15,000 in annual premiums. To pay them, the 62-year-old started drawing on Social Security.
The insurance covered his wife's $30,000 surgery, but only after charging Stephens a $5,000 deductible.
"I might as well have paid for the surgery in installments," he said. "Technically, between our deductibles and premiums, we could pay $25,000 before our insurance kicks in. But what choice do we have?"