September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009

Insurance Company Must Pay $10 Million
For Revoking Policy Of Teen With HIV

Thanks for stopping by to check out what is going on in another day of my life. Today is Friday and I am busy at work getting support for extending Ryan White funding. I also have to get ready for my next trips to South Florida and San Diego, California.

I came across an article today about a teenager who has won a judgment against an insurance company. The following is from the Huffington Post.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered an insurance company to pay $10 million for wrongly revoking the insurance policy of a 17-year-old college student after he tested positive for HIV. The court called the 2002 decision by the insurance company "reprehensible."

That appears to be the most an insurance company has ever been ordered to pay in a case involving the practice known as rescission, in which insurance companies retroactively cancel coverage for policyholders based on alleged misstatements - sometimes right after diagnoses of life-threatening diseases.

The ruling emerges from a conservative Southern state with one of the most pro-business climates in the country. And it comes as progressive Democrats on Capitol Hill are pressing for health care reforms, such as a public insurance option, that reflect wariness about the private insurance industry's motives.

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court's verdict against Fortis Insurance, now known as Assurant. The trial jury had awarded the former college student, Jerome Mitchell, $15 million in punitive damages; the Supreme Court reduced that amount by $5 million.

Mitchell learned that he had HIV when, while heading to college, he donated blood. Fortis then rescinded his coverage, citing what turned out to be an erroneous note from a nurse in his medical records that indicated that he might have been diagnosed prior to his obtaining his insurance policy.

Before the cancellation of the policy, an underwriter working for Fortis wrote to a committee considering whether or not to rescind his policy: "Technically, we do not have the results of the HIV tests. This is the only entry in the medical records regarding HIV status. Is it sufficient?" The underwriter's concerns were ignored and the rescission went forward.

In the ruling, Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal wrote: "We find ample support in the record that Fortis' conduct was reprehensible ... Fortis demonstrated an indifference to Mitchell's life and a reckless disregard to his health and safety."

An investigation this summer by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and earlier ones by state regulators in California, New York and Connecticut, found that thousands of vulnerable and seriously ill policyholders have had their coverage canceled by many of the nation's largest insurance companies without any legal basis. The congressional committee found that three insurance companies alone made at least $300 million over five years from rescission. One of those three companies was Assurant.

In Febuary 2008, a private arbitration judge in Los Angeles ordered Health Net Inc. to pay more than $9 million to a breast cancer patient whose health insurance it revoked shortly after her diagnosis and while she was undergoing chemotherapy. The plaintiff in that case, Patsy Bates, a then-52-year-old grandmother and hair-salon owner, was unable to continue her chemotherapy for several months.

During the case, evidence emerged that Health Net had paid bonuses to employees to reward them based on the number of policyholders they had rescinded. The judge who awarded Bates the $9 million said in his decision: "It's difficult to imagine a policy more reprehensible than tying bonuses to encourage the rescission of health insurance that keeps the public well and alive."

William Shernoff, the attorney who represented Bates, said in an interview Wednesday that he was not unhappy that there was a new verdict larger than the one he won for Bates. "I am glad to see that the courts in other parts of the country are coming down hard on this reprehensible practice of dumping sick patients," he said. "It has been a practice going on decades, is widespread, and ruins lives."

Shernoff currently said he has more than 100 pending cases against California insurance companies on behalf of patients he alleges were wrongly rescinded. He said he has already settled about 90 similar cases over the last three years.

President Obama cited other cases of rescission in his recent speech before a joint session of Congress as a major reason that health reform is necessary.

I know the horror stories I have heard personally over the years and do not think it is right companies can just cancel people leaving them in the dark while dealing with life threatening or chronic illnesses just so they can keep the profits going to the shareholders.

Those are my thoughts. What about yours? Drop me a line and let me know.

Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope and happiness.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab