A mother, who lost her premature baby in 2018, is sharing her story after incurring a medical insurance debt amounting to $257,000. Brittany Giroux Lane was only able to be with her baby girl for 25 days, but the financial turmoil that followed after the loss hound her.
In an exclusive interview with the New York Times, Lane, 35, said that the demand letter from Cigna, the medical insurance company, came in the summer of 2020, followed by a second demand letter in 2021. The humongous debt has been a painful reminder of what she and her husband, Clayton Lane, have been through since their daughter's death.
An error in her medical insurance plan led to this predicament, but it took Cigna more than 18 months to sort it out and send the first demand letter.
"For them, it's just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter's death," Clayton said. "It means facing threats of financial ruin. It's so unjust and infuriating."
Confusion with Two Medical Insurance Coverage
Before Christmas in 2018, Brittany gave birth to Alexandra, who arrived 13 weeks earlier than her due date. At under two pounds, Alexandra fought for her life at the Mount Sinai West neonatal intensive care unit, but her condition worsened because of an infection. On Jan. 15, 2019, the Lanes said goodbye to their baby girl, who lived for 25 days.
Cigna took care of the hospitalization in 2018, but Brittany changed medical insurance in 2019 via UnitedHealthcare due to a change in her employment. In between these changes and the birth, she received more bills from her neonatologists and pediatricians, knowing her new medical insurance covered the cost.
However, Cigna still covered the Lane family's medical bills for 2019, thus technically overpaying Mount Sinai West by $257,000. The company has been working out with the hospital for the refund, but they went after the parents when they couldn't get the money back. The Lanes filed a complaint against Cigna.
Experts in medical billing told New York Times that the Lane couple was stuck in a dispute between two large medical companies. Their case wasn't the norm, but it highlighted America's health care coverage problems, where the patient or plan owner has no control of the payments or refunds.
Ban on Surprise Billing
The couple's story comes as the Biden administration passed the ban on surprise billing for medical insurance, which will take effect on January 2022. U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Bacera said this would ensure "transparency and affordable care," as well as assurances that no American will receive unexpected medical costs while seeking treatment and hospital services.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 20 percent of hospital bills fall under surprise charges, adding up to millions every year. Most cases arise because the plan does not cover the treatments, and it's a common occurrence for emergency services.
Experts advised consumers not to pay medical bills as soon as these arrive in the mail. Instead, they need to seek out their provider and review the itemized record before negotiating the payment. At least 30 percent of medical billings contain errors and duplicate charges for services not given to the patient.
Meanwhile, Cigna released a statement saying they regret the letter sent to the Lanes and will be reviewing its policy for communications with customers.
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