Insurance Company Drops Vet Over 2-Cent Shortage

Cancer Patient's Life Now Hangs In Balance As He Awaits Stem Cell Replacement

Two pennies. That's the difference between a potentially life-saving surgery and a dropped insurance plan.

Those 2 cents could cost Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan everything.

"Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this," said Flanagan.

It was an innocent enough mistake, according to Ronald's wife, Frances Flanagan.

"If I only had just hit the nine instead of the seven," Frances said.

When she was paying their monthly health insurance premium online in November, Frances swapped a 7 for a 9, leaving their $328.69 payment 2 cents short.

"And now we're just pulling teeth and trying to figure out what's the next step," Frances said.

Their insurance benefits administrator, Ceridian Cobra Services, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., promptly dropped the Flanagans for the 2-cent shortage.

The couple found out about losing their coverage at a doctor's appointment on Jan. 13 while they were at the Exempla Rock Creek Medical Center in Broomfield.

As Ron was getting prepped to have a bone biopsy, Frances was on the phone with Ceridian.

"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,'" said Ron.

"And that's when they let me know that we no longer had insurance on account of the 2 cents, and they canceled us," said Frances. "Since then, I've been depressed. I haven't been able to hardly do anything. As you can see, we still have our Christmas decorations up. So it's been hard on me."

Ron has been fighting cancer since September 2008. He has multiple myeloma -- cancer in the bone marrow. Doctors at St. Luke's have performed stem cell transplant surgery twice. He needs another transplant before the end of February, and they have a donor. But because of the 2-cent mistake, Ceridian Cobra Services will not pay for the procedure.

In a statement, Ceridian Cobra Services told 7NEWS, "We did not receive a full and timely payment and (Mrs. Flanagan) was provided several notices of the shortage and a grace period reminder notice on the last invoice, along with extended grace dates as provided for under COBRA regulations."

The statement goes on to say, "Since the payment was not full, it fit into the definition in the regulations of an 'insufficient payment' ... Ceridian understands nothing is more important than one’s health ... Unfortunately, we simply do not have the capacity to be able to personally call continuants and remind them of the status of their COBRA benefits."

Ron Flanagan believes Ceridian does not value human health, but rather, the bottom line.

Ron said they never received written notice that they could be dropped. The couple said they only received a billing statement in December that showed the two-cent shortage, but it wasn't clear to them that it was past due, otherwise they would have just added two cents to their December payment -- which they paid in full, and which Ceridian promptly cashed.

"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," he said.

The family believes the cause of Ron's cancer is likely exposure to Agent Orange while Ron was deployed in Vietnam. Now, he waits for the stem cell transplant he needs.

"My doctor said I could not wait months to decide on a transplant," said Ron.

"I spoke to my sister-in-law and that's when I broke down. And I told her I feel like it's all my fault," said Frances. "She just said, 'No. It's not your fault.'"

"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," said Ron.

"We have God on our side," said Frances.

Ron is now considering going to the Veterans Administration hospital as an alternative, but it could mean he would have to travel to Seattle for treatment.

Federal law states insurance providers must give you a reasonable amount of time to make up a shortage.

Ron said he might start oral chemotherapy as a maintenance-type drug to manage his cancer.