One penny holds up insurance benefits, leukemia patient claims

La Rosa Carrington has more than enough to worry about. She’s a single mother with two teenage daughters, she’s fighting a type of leukemia that requires five days of chemo a month for four months, and she lost her job in May.

So the last thing she needed was news that her health insurance benefits would be terminated because she hadn’t paid her premium in full. The shortfall? One penny.

The problem started after Carrington, 52, lost her job as an admissions representative with Alta Colleges and COBRA kicked in. Under the federal COBRA law, people who lose their jobs under certain circumstances can temporarily keep their group health insurance from their employer, but they have to pick up a larger share of their premium — in her case, a little over $471.87 a month.

However, under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, those who meet the eligibility requirements pay just 35 percent of the full COBRA premium. Because Carrington had not yet received a bill showing what her payment would be with the discount, she whipped out a calculator, figured out that she owed $165.15 a month and sent a check for that amount to Discovery Benefits.

But Discovery Benefits determined she owed $165.16, and last week, she received a letter from the company telling her she was short on her premium and her coverage “has not been reinstated with your insurance carrier(s).” The letter, however, did not tell her how much she owed.

She called Discovery Benefits and was aghast when she heard the amount.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ How am I going to pay you a penny’”?

Carrington said she talked twice to a customer service representative, who told her it was policy that the penny be received before the benefits could be reinstated. Write a check or send a money order, Carrington said the representative told her.

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