Isaiah Breen went to bed with health insurance and — 79 dollars later — woke up without it.
I’d like to tell you that couldn’t possibly happen to you. But half of you are probably on hold with your insurance companies right now.
Every American knows the only thing worse than our health coverage is losing our health coverage.
Breen lost his to a billing mix-up.
He overpaid his December premium of $300 by about $50, he said, and then, confused by the credit on his account, underpaid January by $79.
When he tried to pay up for February, he found a note from HealthPartners, his insurer, informing him his health coverage was canceled, effective three weeks ago.
Suddenly, he was solely responsible for $1,400 in medical bills he’d racked up this month, and for all the health care he might need in the months to come. Fourteen hundred dollars is three quick office visits — including an annual physical — without insurance. With Breen’s insurance, the care would have cost $90 in copays.
Breen, the 27-year-old communications director of the nonprofit Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, shared his story in a series of incredulous tweets on Thursday: The eight different departments he called; the four different supervisors who told him he was out of luck. No other insurer, he was told, would enroll someone who’d just been kicked off a plan due to lack of payment.
“When you talk to people you don’t know, who hold your fate in their hands,” Breen said he realized “just how small and powerless the system makes you feel.”
As he shared his story online, others chimed in with their own.
“This happened to me last year,” one woman tweeted. “I was on the hook for thousands of dollars (I have Stage 4 cancer). It took intervention by a member of Congress to get my coverage back.”
“This happened to my son in NY two years ago,” a man wrote. “They got his September payment a few days late but didn’t tell him. He continued to make his monthly payments (which they continued to cash) and only found out in December that they had dropped his coverage in October. Crooks.”
Even Breen’s 83-year-old grandmother has been kicked out of her health plan briefly after an auto-pay system went down and messed up her premium payments.
Here’s the thing about sharing your troubles online with curious onlookers and journalists. It works.
Breen spent years as a congressional press secretary, including work for current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. He knew social media, he knew the media and he knew the system.
He knew he could file a grievance with the Minnesota Commerce Department, which oversees the insurance industry.
By Thursday afternoon, HealthPartners had reinstated Breen’s coverage.
We’re “pleased this has been resolved,” the company said in a statement, noting that federal guidelines allow them to kick customers off their plans 31 days after a missed payment. “At HealthPartners we work hard to help members understand their coverage and payment. We’re always looking for opportunities to make this process more simple and understandable.”’
HealthPartners did not comment on Breen’s case, citing confidentiality.
This is what passes for a happy ending in health care these days.
Health care in America is so expensive, health insurance is the only reason we have money left for groceries. Assuming we have any grocery money left after we pay our monthly premiums.
One out of every five Americans is drowning in medical debt. People are dying because they can’t afford insulin. Last fall, I wrote about a colleague who got a splinter removed at a St. Paul walk-in clinic and walked out with a $751 bill, and people are still sending me stories about their overpriced appendectomies.
And those are the lucky ones — the ones with health insurance to help cover the cost of a $20,000 broken arm or a $95 flu shot.
At last count, 349,000 Minnesotans were uninsured.
Breen knows how close he came to joining them.
“[My] story is the kind of story a well-connected, media savvy middle class guy can tell,” he tweeted after his coverage was restored. “[I]magine what it’s like for poor people and old people and people of color and people without advocates and people without money and people without power.”
That’s health insurance in America, he said.
“When people say they love their insurance,” he said, they only mean “they love the care their insurance helps them get.”
Nobody loves searching for health care in a system that couldn’t care less.