Lauren Bard works as a nurse at Dignity Health, a "Christian hospital" (motto: Hello humankindness). In 2018, Bard went to UC Irvine hospital to deliver her very premature (21 week) baby.
Bard's employer provides coverage through Anthem Blue Cross, but requires parents of newborns to register their children within 31 days. Bard missed this deadline because she was distracted by having a preemie in the NICU, so Dignity Health refused to cover the bill for her baby's care, which came to $898,984.
Dignity Health's position is that Bard was informed of the paperwork requirement when she got her job, six years prior to giving birth to a premature baby that needed sustained, intense, emergency medical care to survive, and if she couldn't remember on her own to fill in the paperwork, then she was going to have to pay the nearly $1 million in medical expenses on her own (Dignity also blamed the IRS for this).
Bard exhausted every avenue of appeal within her employer's bureaucracy, and was repeatedly told that there was no possible way that her employer's insurance would pay for it. She was going to have to go on a $100/month repayment plan, which would see her in debt for the next 748 years.
Then Propublica contacted Dignity Health, and they reversed their decision. They attribute the reversal to "additional information" they received about Bard's case, but could not say what that new information was. It appears the "new information" was that they were about to be pilloried in a national press outlet for bankrupting an employee whose only fault was failing to complete a paperwork requirement while in extreme emotional and physical distress, despite having been notified of it six years before.
Dignity said in a statement that it would review how it could better educate new parents about the enrollment requirement. But Bard still wants to know why her employer would make her suffer through such an ordeal. In a letter Bard received last week, the Dignity benefits department said it had received additional information that caused it to reverse course, but it appears to be the same information that Bard had been telling it all along.
“We based this new decision on certain extenuating and compelling circumstances, which, in all likelihood prohibited you from enrolling your newborn daughter within the Plan’s required 31-day enrollment period,” the letter said.
Bard recognizes a dark irony in her Christian employer’s behavior, and it’s made her skeptical. She urged the benefits department to change its process so other employees don’t also have their benefits denied. Dignity needs to put its own ideals into practice, she told ProPublica. “You can’t put on this facade,” Bard said. “You have to live it. You have to walk the walk.”
How One Employer Stuck a New Mom With a $898,984 Bill for Her Premature Baby [Marshall Allen/Propublica]
(Image: Arlene Mejorado/Propublica)