Insurance Horror Story, With Bill of $898,984.57

Dignity Health stuck new mom with bill for preemie, until ProPublica asked questions
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2019 8:34 AM CST
Updated Nov 10, 2019 1:30 PM CST
Insurance Horror Story, With Bill of $898,984.57
   (Getty/Andrei Vasilev)

ProPublica may have saved a young family from financial ruin while illustrating the harsh realities of today's health insurance landscape. The story is about 30-year-old Lauren Bard, a nurse at a hospital in San Bernardino, Calif., who gave birth to a baby some three and a half months prematurely last year. Three days after the birth, Bard called Anthem Blue Cross, which administers her health plan, and added her daughter to her coverage. All was well, except for one problem: She was unaware of a technicality required by her employer, Dignity Health. She was supposed to enroll her newborn on Dignity's own website within 31 days of birth. Bard didn't do that, and this month she opened a hospital bill to see the staggering amount she personally owed: $898,984.57.

Bard appealed to Dignity Health (motto: Hello Humankindness), but it wouldn't budge, saying its hands were tied because of federal rules on these things. But ProPublica talked to a Labor Department official who said Dignity could, in fact, grant an exception. After ProPublica raised the issue with Dignity, the company reversed course and said it would cover the bills. "We based this new decision on certain extenuating and compelling circumstances, which, in all likelihood prohibited you from enrolling your newborn daughter within the Plan’s required 31-day enrollment period," it wrote to Bard. Dignity also plans to make sure other employees are better aware of the enrollment requirement. Read the full story, which ProPublica says is reflective of a trend in which employers are shifting more of the health insurance burden onto employees. (More Longform stories.)

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