Sacramento, CA -- A consumer group and two patients with insurance who were left with $650,000 in medical bills called on the state legislature to cap the amount of money patients must pay out of pocket for health care. Later today the consumers will testify at a California Assembly hearing on so-called "consumer directed" health insurance as the U.S. Senate prepares to move a bill backed by President Bush to expand the junk health plans.
Dana Christensen will testify that she owed more than $450,000 when her husband died of bone cancer even though they had insurance and had purchased a special rider for chemotherapy. On his deathbed, Dana's husband, Doug, asked her to divorce him so she would not be responsible for the bills. She refused. David Henderson's unpaid medical bills climbed above $180,000 after he and his wife coped with multiple surgeries. Their health plan eventually paid less than 15% of their costs.
Dana Christensen and David Henderson will speak out against limited benefit health care plans that shift the burden of health care costs to patients through high deductibles, co-pays and other charges. The Christensens' and Hendersons' health policies had no limit on out of pocket costs for patients. Both will testify at the hearing today.
"These plans aren't worth a dime because they allow insurance companies to sell junk policies that don't protect patients when they are sick," according to Dana Christensen, a volunteer with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) who lives in Playa Del Rey, California.
The California Assembly hearing today will discuss high-cost health insurance. State legislation is in the works to deal with the issue. Federal legislation to expand association health plans, like those purchased by Christensen and Henderson, and pre-empt state controls is expected to go to mark-up in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The bill, S. 1955 by Senator Enzi (R-WY) would remove such Bush-backed health plans from accountability under state patient protection laws and allow the plans to be falsely marketed as insurance even though they offer no protection when patients get sick.
The Christensens' and Hendersons' stories can be found in an online resource published by FTCR outlining the plans' skeletal benefits: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/healthcare/BushCare/
"Insurance isn't insurance if it doesn't protect patients from financial disaster when they are sickest and need coverage the most," said Carmen Balber of FTCR.
Association health plans (AHPs) are sold through organizations for small employers or the self-employed. They are marketed as a way to provide large group discounts to small businesses but the benefits are even worse than HMOs.
"We were told the insurance would pay 80 to 100 percent of medical expenses for catastrophic illnesses. When both of us were hit with catastrophes within one nine-month period, we were left hanging with $180,000 in unpaid medical debts," said David Henderson of Penn Valley. "The insurance paid less than 15 percent. And we worry that others like us will end up risking their health, and their lives, because of costs."
"What's the point of paying for health insurance and then when you need it, discovering the benefits you thought were promised and paid for just aren't there?" asked Dana Christensen. "Mega Life didn't tell us that chemotherapy was capped at $1,000 a day. Doug's chemotherapy charges were as high as $18,000 a day!"
Christensen and Henderson will testify today at the Assembly Health Committee meeting scheduled to begin at 1:30 in Room 4202.
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is the state's leading non-partisan and non-profit consumer watchdog group. For more information visit us online at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org