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Agent Orange victim loses health coverage over 2-cent shortfall

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 18:22 EDT
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A Vietnam veteran suffering from a bone cancer blamed on exposure to Agent Orange was dropped from his health insurance for a two-cent shortfall on a premium payment, only to have the insurance reinstated when the story became public.

Ronald Flanagan of Thornton, Colorado, said he never received a warning from Ceridian Cobra Services that his coverage was cut, and only found out when he showed up at a hospital for a biopsy.

“The nurses were just getting ready to do the biopsy when my wife popped into the office and told them, ‘Stop. We don’t have any insurance,’” Flanagan told ABC channel 7 in Denver.

His wife, Frances, had just been informed that due a typo on their November premium payment, their insurance had been canceled. She had swapped a 7 for a 9, sending Ceridian a check for $328.67, instead of $328.69.

The Flanagans said the insurer did little to notify them their coverage was about to be canceled. Their next statement listed the faulty November payment, but did not alert them that their insurance was canceled. Their December premium payment was accepted, they say.

“They never did a certified letter saying what could happen. They never made a phone call. As far as I’m concerned, they’re looking for a way to drop you,” Ronald Flanagan said.

After sending a letter to ABC in Denver on Tuesday defending its decision to drop the Flanagans, the company appeared to quickly change its mind on Wednesday, when officials at the Florida-based insurer reportedly called the Flanagans personally to let them know their coverage had been reinstated.

According to AOL, Flanagan’s doctors believe his cancer was likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used by the US military during the Vietnam War as part of its herbicidal warfare campaign. An estimated 40,000 US soldiers were exposed to the toxin, though few have been compensated. The chemical has also been blamed in the maiming or death of 400,000 Vietnamese people.

Flanagan told the press that losing his insurance crippled him emotionally, and he was considering using the Veterans Administration hospital in Seattle — 1,400 miles away — before Ceridian reinstated his policy.

“The insurance company is paying out way more than I’m paying in. And I understand that. But that’s part of the insurance game,” he said.

Restrictions on insurers’ ability to drop costly patients are among the reforms in the health reform law passed last year.

The Flanagans’ case doesn’t appear to be isolated. A Colorado woman suffering from leukemia said last year she was dropped from her health plan over a one-cent shortfall. That incident involved a different insurer, Discovery Benefits.

La Rosa Carrington of Colorado Springs said the letter notifying her of the canceled policy didn’t even mention that she was one penny short. She said the insurer relented when she threatened to take her story to the press.

 
 
 
 
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