A Penny For My Healthcare? -- My Pregnant Life

Igoe letter
A penny's worth of panic
I spent a huge chunk of the past week arguing with my health insurance provider. It scared the bejesus out of me, which my mom insists could have made me miscarry. I have not heard "had bejesus scared out of her" listed as a cause of miscarriage, but I certainly wasn't in the stress-free state my doctor recommends.

I still get health care through COBRA from my old job, subsidized by the stimulus plan. Thank goodness, because I'm not sure what we'd do otherwise. In fact, it runs out a month after my baby comes, so everything had better be all right ... Can't think about that now, though.

Here's what happened: I got a letter saying my policy had been cancelled for nonpayment.


I called right away, because I'd paid through online banking; they said they had not received that check, and I couldn't re-send it, because they didn't accept late payments. I got on the phone with my bank, who confirmed they'd sent it on time and even conference-called the insurance company. Didn't matter; they'd already cancelled me and I would remain cancelled till the check showed up. There was nothing to do but call back each day to see if it showed up.

During that time, I researched new health plans. Remember, I have an extremely high-risk pregnancy; I delivered early last time, and Penelope's isolette alone cost $2,500 a day. The cheapest plan I could find was an HMO that contained none of the team of doctors working hard to keep this pregnancy afloat, and there was no guarantee – in fact, a very slim chance – that I would be taken with my "pre-existing condition."

When I called back, I got different information: Oh, they had the check all right, but the company had changed systems; the old system rounded down a penny, the new system rounded up a penny, so it looked like I had paid a penny less than required, which gave them cause to cancel me. The rep on the phone assured me she'd "try really hard" to get me reinstated, but couldn't make any promises, and the process would take 3-5 days.

While I lost my shit and scared the crap out of my toddler, my husband got on the phone to our Congresswoman, who is – guess who? Nancy Pelosi. If you're not familiar, she also acts as Speaker of the House and has been instrumental in pushing the health-care bill through, earning her jeers (and worse) from the right (too liberal!) and the left (not liberal enough!).

Whatever your opinions on the big picture may be, for my individual situation, she was amazing. Her office told me exactly what the insurance company was allowed to do (they could not cancel me like that; if the error was theirs, they had to give me a written warning with 30 days to make up the ONE PENNY difference). I was given two different offices to call, the Department of Labor (and talk to a Benefits Advisor) and the Calfiornia Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline. The first office had even more helpful information, collected mine, and called the insurance company on my behalf.

Within an hour I had a call back from the insurance company, assuring me that I and all the hundreds of other people affected by their software glitch would receive a letter on Monday confirming that we were resinstated. She acted all friendly with me, as if we were old chums who'd been through some sort of ordeal together. "I'm your advocate," she kept telling me. Yeah. My advocate. Tell that to my blood pressure.

This story is NOTHING. It has a happy ending, and there are many, many moms dealing with much worse insurance and heathcare woes. But you know, I'm the sort of person the anti-health-plan people praise: I pay through the nose for a family plan, and I'm responsible with my payments even though they take up a huge chunk of my income (almost half my monthly CafeMom paycheck goes straight to COBRA).

Yet I still almost got hosed because of a computer error; if I lost health care halfway through this pregnancy, I would be bankrupted, and I'd be one more "irresponsible consumer" dismissed by the health plan's foes. I'm still waking up in a panic over this, even though I know I'm okay for now.

This has been horrible for my pregnancy. This is stress, worry and fear when I need to feel healthy and positive. This is wasted time and energy when I could have been pitching more stories to editors, working on more articles, making more money. Or just enjoying my family on a beautiful weekend. I'm sorry, I don't usually get political on my blog – and you'll have the usual Amy back on Thursday. I just had to get this off my bloated, colostrum-producing chest.

Are you having your own health-insurance woes? Have they affected your pregnancy or your kids? Tell us in the comments!

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