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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The insurer pulled the rug out from under her: Lawsuit on insurer’s refusal to pay for breast cancer treatment

A Southern California woman who had her medical coverage canceled as she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer was awarded more than $9 million Friday in a case against one of California's largest health insurers.

Patsy Bates, a 52-year-old mother of two, had previously been insured with another company but was persuaded to switch to a Health Net policy after an agent suggested she could save money.

She said she had undergone surgery to remove a tumor and had received her first two chemotherapy treatments when doctors stopped treating her because her bills were going unpaid.

Patsy, a hairdresser from Lakewood (Los Angeles County), had been left with more than $129,000 in unpaid medical bills when Health Net Inc. canceled her policy in 2004. The insurer contended that she had failed to disclose a heart condition and lied about her weight when she applied for the policy in July 2003.

But arbitration judge Sam Cianchetti ordered Health Net to pay her medical bills, plus $8.4 million in punitive damages and $750,000 for emotional distress.

"It's hard to imagine a situation more trying than the one Bates has had to endure," the judge wrote in his findings. "The rug was pulled out from underneath, and that occurred at a time when she is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death for women."

Health insurers have come under fire from state regulators, attorneys and advocates for using mistakes or omissions in a member's application to justify canceling coverage after a policyholder becomes ill.

Friday's award marked the first punitive damages ordered by a judge in a case against an insurer for rescinding policies. Hundreds of cases in California have been settled quietly in confidential agreements.

"This punitive award will do more than anything to stop the shameful practice of post-claiming underwriting," said Bates' attorney, William Shernoff. "Other health insurers will obviously have to hear the message that the practice of canceling people's health insurance after they become sick will not be tolerated by the public."

Health Net officials released a statement Friday saying the insurer will rescind no policies in the future without a binding, third-party review process.

Health Net also said it would conduct a review of its practices and the way its brokers and agents are trained. The company said it is working with state regulators and will make additional announcements in the coming weeks.

Friday's award capped a difficult week for the insurer, which included being sued by the Los Angeles city attorney on claims of unlawful and deceptive business practices in connection with its rescission practices. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo also said the company illegally ran an incentive program in which it paid bonuses to an administrator for meeting policy-cancellation targets.

"I don't have anger toward the company," said Patsy, whose cancer is in remission but who has some health problems. "I hope what they're saying is true, and that they're going to change their policies and take care of the people they insure."

Advice: Avoid insurers whom consumers frequently identify as refusing to pay for care when their beneficiaries get sick. Call your local Better Business Bureau and state Attorney General's office to find out their track record.

Browse for similar stories in our index at the very bottom of this page, or read a an Insurance Warrior story.

Thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle staff for today's source story.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Dach MD said...

The 800 Pound Gorilla in the Health Insurance Industry

A simple solution to end this health insurance abuse is have the states regulate the health insurance industry just like a public utility is regulated. This will rein in the obscene profits made by the insurance industry taking advantage of the vulnerability of sick Americans.

How does one deal with an eight hundred pound Gorilla that misbehaves and denies coverage for your medical bills?

Patsy Bates found out when a California court awarded her 9 million dollars for damages.

Her insurance carrier, Health Net cancelled coverage just when she needed breast cancer treatment.

Her lawyer, William Shernoff, not only read the book, he wrote the book: "Fight Back and Win: How to Get HMOs and Health Insurance to Pay Up".

Bravo for LA City Attorney Delgadillo and New York City Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for going after the health insurance industry for fraudulent practices such as cancellation for pre-existing conditions and underpayment for out-of-network doctor bills.

To read more:
Making Your Health Insurance Company Pay Up by Jeffrey Dach MD

Jeffrey Dach MD

my web site