A 52-year-old woman with leukemia temporarily lost her health insurance over one penny, Gazette.com reported.

La Rosa Carrington lost her job as an admissions representative in May. But she was able to keep her insurance because her circumstances – being a single mother of two teenage girls and undergoing five chemotherapy treatments a month to treat her leukemia - qualified her for the federal COBRA law, which allows people to temporarily keep their employer-based group health insurance, but they pay a larger portion of the premium.

When her portion of the bill was reduced from $417.87 a month to 35 percent of the full COBRA premium because Carrington also qualified for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the health insurance company neglected to send her a bill with the final amount.

Carrington did the math herself and it came out to $165.15 a month. Discovery Benefits disagreed. The North Dakota-based employee benefits administrator determined that she owed $165.16 and would not reinstate her insurance because of the difference. They sent her a letter informing her that she had not paid her premium in full, but again neglected to tell her how much her plan would cost.

From her hospital bed, Carrington called a customer service representative and was astonished by what they had to say.

“My medical bills are coming in like locusts, and you’re holding up my benefits because of one red cent?” said Carrington, recalling the conversation.

Carrington said that customer service representatives told her to send a check or money order to pay the penny, but that she was not able to because she was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy.

“If this is how you treat people, you need spiritual training,” she said she told the rep.

A supervisor called Carrington back and conceded the penny after Carrington threatened to go to the media with her story. Carrington now has insurance again, but wants to work toward a change in policy when she gets well to prevent similar scenarios in the future.

Unfortunately, this type of experience isn’t unique to Carrington, said June Harryman, supervisory benefit adviser for the federal Employee Benefits Security Administration regional office in Kansas City.

“It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last,” she said.

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