Carri Sampson's phone call to set up a doctor's appointment last September got her an alarming response: her insurance had been dropped.

"I said 'What do you mean?' " Sampson said. "How can they drop me and not notify me?"

As Sampson later learned, she was dropped from her ex-husband's insurance in May after he took a leave of absence from work and his payments lapsed. But what infuriates the 41-year-old Lake Elmo woman is that she was never notified her insurance was gone until four months and $1,500 in medical bills later.

When she finally found out she was uninsured, she discovered that the insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, didn't have to notify her because she was an ex-spouse listed as a dependent under her former husband's insurance, she said.

But Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), the agency that manages insurance benefits for state employees like Sampson's ex-husband, should have notified Sampson as well, said Matt Swenson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Commerce spokesman.

Blue Cross referred Whistleblower's inquiry to MMB. While MMB spokesman John Pollard said via e-mail that the agency couldn't discuss specifics of the case due to privacy concerns, in general the agency gives notice to the policyholder whenever coverage is lost, but timing may vary. A payment can be delayed for up to 105 days and if it isn't paid by then, the coverage would be retroactively dropped, as was the case for Sampson.

When Sampson and her husband divorced seven years ago, she and their two children stayed on his insurance.

After he returned to work from his leave of absence, he reinstated coverage for himself and the children, but not for his ex-wife because he was confused by the notifications, she said. In the past, she said, she was billed separately for medical bills while he received bills for him and their children.

In an Oct. 4 e-mail, MMB indicated that it had notified Sampson of her loss of health coverage by sending COBRA forms to her in September.

That, however, came after Sampson discovered that fact from her pulmonary specialist, whom she needed to see about her asthma.

Sampson stopped all medical appointments and filed a complaint with the state Department of Commerce. In a Dec. 14 letter, the department said no state laws had been violated in Sampson's situation. Swenson said the department is now following up with Blue Cross and MMB to see why Sampson was notified months after the insurance was dropped.

This month, Sampson started receiving insurance through her employer, the city of Minneapolis, where she works as a 911 dispatcher. The damage, though, was already done. She said she now owes $1,500 in bills from a routine physical checkup and appointments with asthma specialists. Those mounting medical bills, she said, will affect her credit -- an avoidable problem, she said, had she initially been notified about the loss of insurance.

It's a lesson she now hopes other divorced couples under the same insurance plan can learn from before it's too late.

"I think there are a lot of No. 2's and they have nowhere to go," she said. "I have no say in the matter. I can't think of any other business that could do this."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141