Dana Christensen’s battle with junk health insurance

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Today's LA Times has prominently featured the story of Dana Christensen, a Consumer Watchdog hero, in an article documenting a new lawsuit brought by the Los Angeles's City Attorney against a health insurance company, HealthMarkets Inc., notorious for selling "junk insurance" to consumers.

(Photo Credit: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times / October 21, 2010)

The Times' account of her story depicts an industry rife with deception:

The suit said the couple [Dana and Doug Christensen] bought a Mega Life insurance policy in 2001 that included up to $100,000 worth of coverage for chemotherapy – an important feature for Doug Christensen, who had survived a bout of cancer.

But the sales agent did not inform the couple that the drug benefit was capped at $1,000 a day, far below the cost of treatment, the lawsuit alleged. The couple wound up paying for treatments and three surgeries out of pocket because their insurance policy did not cover the expenses.

Doug Christensen died in 2002, leaving his widow with more than $450,000 in unpaid medical bills, she said in an interview. She sued Mega Life, settling five years ago for $1.7 million. But she said that medical bills, taxes and attorneys' fees left her with nothing.

"I'm broke," said Christensen, 52. "It's pretty much a nightmare that won't go away. We thought we had done the right thing and were lucky that we had an insurance policy. But what they promised wasn't there."

Goldman Sachs and Blackstone Group, HealthMarkets' majority owners, are also implicated in the Los Angeles City Attorney's suit, which according to the article contends that the Wall St. firms "knew about the alleged insurance scams in California when they bought a majority stake in HealthMarkets in 2006."

Read the full article here: http://www.latimes.com/health/la-fi-healthmarkets-20101021,0,7689480.story.


Dana's story was also featured in the Huffington Post today in an exclusive excerpt from Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court's new book, The Progressive's Guide To Raising Hell, which describes how Dana single-handedly beat the junk insurance industry on capitol hill and brought the issue to America's attention.

From the excerpt:

With health insurance costs skyrocketing in 2006, insurers hatched a plan to remove themselves from the patients'-rights laws that were passed in forty-four states in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The industry explained that the insurance companies wanted to "reduce their costs of compliance" so insurance would be cheaper. It sounded simple enough to President Bush and Congress, who were about to enact the plan. Attorneys general, governors, and state insurance commissioners complained, but it looked like the industry had the votes.

Then Dana Christensen came to Capitol Hill with my colleagues Carmen Balber and Jerry Flanagan.

Christensen had been working with my consumer group to warn against the very type of "junk health insurance" policy that we feared would become the norm if state regulation were bypassed. She and her husband, Doug, had been technically insured, yet Dana was left with $450,000 in unpaid medical bills when her husband died of bone cancer.

The fine print in her insurance policy had no limit on "out-of-pocket cost." So she had to pay most of the costs of his chemotherapy and cancer care. On his deathbed, Doug asked Dana to divorce him so she would not have to be liable for the medical bills. She refused. In the end, only because of a lawsuit under state law, which prevented fraudulent representations, was Dana able to recoup the cost of those bills from the insurer.

Dana flew into Washington on Monday, on the heels of a PBS NOW news story about her case that aired the previous Friday. She held a press conference with Senators Edward Kennedy and Richard Durbin, then lobbied other senators. The power of her story stopped the legislation dead in its tracks.

"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?" Dana asked. "That's what happened to my husband Doug and me."

Human truth is very hard for a human being, even the most hardened Washington politician, to turn away from.

We applaud Dana as she continues her battle. Her story is an inspiration and a beacon of hope for many who otherwise might not have any.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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