'If this is how you treat people, you need spiritual training'

A Colorado single mother of two suffering from leukemia says her health insurer discontinued her coverage because she was one cent short on her premium payment.

According to local news reports, La Rosa Carrington of Colorado Springs says it was her threat to take her story to the media that got North Dakota-based Discovery Benefits to change its mind about the cancellation. She says when the company notified her they were discontinuing her coverage, the letter didn't mention how much she was short.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports:

“My medical bills are coming in like locusts, and you’re holding up my benefits because of one red cent?” an incredulous Carrington said from her hospital bed last week as she recalled her conversation with a customer service rep at Discovery Benefits....

Carrington said she talked twice to a customer service representative, who told her it was policy that the penny be received before the benefits could be reinstated. Write a check or send a money order, Carrington said the representative told her.

“‘I’m in the hospital receiving chemotherapy; I can’t get you a money order,’” Carrington said she told the rep. “If this is how you treat people, you need spiritual training.”

Carrington says she lost her job as an administrator at Alta Colleges in May, and since then she has been receiving benefits under COBRA, which allows her to keep her employer-provided health plan as long as she pays a larger share of the total premium.

Carrington says she calculated her new monthly premium herself, and sent Discovery Benefits a check for $165.15. But when she called to ask how much she was short, she was told the payment due was $165.16.

The Gazette reports that Carrington "threatened to take her case to the media, and that’s why she thinks the supervisor called her back with some good news: The supervisor had pulled out her own calculator, done the math — and determined that Carrington was correct."

But a Discovery Benefits spokesperson told the Gazette that it was a calculation error on Carrington's part: She had rounded down to the nearest cent, while the company rounds up.

June Harryman, an adviser for the Employee Benefits Security Administration, told the Gazette that this sort of thing is common.

“We’ve seen it before,” Harryman said. “It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last.”