Mom: AOL Blamed Its Cuts on My 'Distressed Baby'

Tim Armstrong has reversed the 401(K) move, but his comment still inflames

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 10, 2014 7:04 AM CST

(Newser) – AOL honcho Tim Armstrong made waves on Thursday in announcing poorly received changes to the company's 401(K) program. The adjustment, which would have shifted the payment schedule to one lump-sum payment at year-end, was explained as a change made in light of exploding medical costs, noting, "we had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK." On Saturday, Armstrong undid those changes, reports the New York Times, but the fallout persists, with that particular line getting the lion's share of the bad press—especially after the mother of one of the distressed babies spoke out.

Writing for Slate, Deanna Fei explains that in October 2012, just five months into a perfectly healthy pregnancy, her daughter was born by emergency C-section after Fei woke up racked with pain. The child weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces, and, after days "lived under the specter of death" has, improbably, survived and thrived. Fei, citing a "3-inch thick folder of hospital bills" isn't arguing with Armstrong's figure. But she is arguing. Standout lines:

  • "For me and my husband [who is employed by AOL], the hardest thing to bear has been the whiff of judgment in Armstrong's statement, as if we selfishly gobbled up an obscenely large slice of the collective health care pie."
  • "While he's at it, why not call out the women who got cancer? The parents of kids with asthma? These rank among the nation’s most expensive medical conditions. Would anyone dare to single out these people for simply availing themselves of their health benefits?"
  • Armstrong later clarified that he used "high-risk pregnancy" as an example, but Fei's pregnancy was not high-risk. Quite the opposite, it had been a perfectly healthy one up until the fateful day. "This is why the head neonatologist referred matter-of-factly to our daughter's birth as 'catastrophic.' In other words, we experienced exactly the kind of unforeseeable, unpreventable medical crisis that any health plan is supposed to cover. Isn't that the whole point of health insurance?"
Click to read Fei's piece in full.

AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong arrives at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, Tuesday, July 9, 2013.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
In this Friday, April 22 2011 photo, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at AOL headquarters in New York.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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