One of the worst abuses of the private health insurance industry is the practice of denying claims to pay for necessary care or revoking the coverage of policyholders for frivolous reasons. A Vietnam veteran from Thornton, Colorado, is the latest victim of this practice.
Vietnam vet Ronald Flanagan has been battling cancer for more than two years. Two weeks ago, Flanagan was getting prepped for a bone biopsy at the local Exempla Rock Creek Medical Center. But at the last minute, his wife called the hospital and told them to stop the procedure because she had just received notice that they no longer have insurance. The reason why? The couple had accidentally underpaid their insurer by two pennies and it decided to drop them from their plan:
Two pennies. That’s the difference between a potentially life-saving surgery, and a dropped insurance plan. Those two cents could cost Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan everything. “Everybody we talk to is very surprised that two cents is enough to do this,” said Flanagan.
It was an innocent enough mistake, according to Ron’s wife, Frances Flanagan. “If I only had just hit the nine instead of the seven,” Frances said. When she was paying their monthly health insurance premium online in November, Frances swapped a 7 for a 9, leaving their $328.69 payment two cents short.
In a statement provided to a local news station, the couple’s insurer, Ceridian Cobra Services, explained, “Since the payment was not full, it fit into the definition in the regulations of an ‘insufficient payment’ … Ceridian understands nothing is more important than one’s health.” Local station ABC 7 interviewed the Flanagans about their plight. “I felt that it was all my fault,” said Mrs. Flanagan, who made the accounting error, choking back tears. Watch it:
The recently passed health care law — which congressional Republicans are unanimously trying to repeal — includes a whole host of protections that would rein in the ability for health insurers to drop patients for frivolous reasons like this. If Republicans are successful, these protections would disappear.
However, in the long run, it’s worth noting that one of the best ways to prevent the situation that the Flanagans are in is to offer them access to a public, not-for-profit system like Medicare, which has a higher approval rating than private insurance, runs more efficiently than any private insurer, and that most Americans want to be able to join.
After intense media pressure, the insurer gave in and returned their benefits to the Flanagans.