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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

She was pregnant when her insurance ran out: The 60th Anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Her father had worked in the Archway cookie factory in northern Ohio for 24 years. Starla Darling, a 27-year-old mother of a young boy, had worked there for eight years. Archway provided excellent health benefits for her through Blue Cross Blue Shield. Starla became pregnant again. Several months later, on Oct. 3, she and the other factory employees received a letter from the owners of the company – an equity firm in Greenwich, Connecticut: the factory would close; their jobs were being eliminated; and insurance benefits would expire on Oct. 6.

"When I heard that I was losing my insurance," Starla said, "I was scared. I remember that the bill for my son [Colt]'s delivery in 2005 was about $9,000, and I knew I would never be able to pay that by myself." So she asked her midwife to induce her labor two days before the insurance expired. "I was determined that we were getting this baby [Kathryn] out, and it was going to be paid for." Starla rushed to the hospital, took a medication to induce labor and then had an emergency Caesarean section.

The insurer denied her claim, leaving her with more than $17,000 in medical bills.

Many people in Starla's situation can maintain their health benefits through a provision in COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986). Unfortunately, because the Archway employees' group health plan no longer exists, that is not an available option for her. In effect, the COBRA section of the safety net has a hole that the 275 factory workers fell through.

Starla's story is especially poignant because today is the anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which draws from the US Constitution, and particularly from the Bill of Rights. Article 25 states:

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance."

Advice to citizens: Fight to get access to affordable care – a universal human right - for people like Starla, Colt, and Kathryn.

Read another story of unaffordable care.

Thanks to Robert Pear for the source story in the Dec. 7 issue of the New York Times.

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