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The latest chapter in the True Life Adventures of the piano teacher who hit a big bump in the road a few years back: A secret recipe of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and luck has beaten back the cancer, but the worthiest foe remains: Assurant Health! Assurant deals what they believe is a fatal blow, but Kareylou decides to make one last stand against the Goliath company. Read below the fold to see how you can help. It doesn't even cost any money.  

    I have been a "valued customer" of Assurant Health for about a decade. Always self-employed, for years I bought an individual insurance policy because that's what a responsible adult did; who knows, I could be in an accident! I'm sure I was considered a good risk: non-smoking, non-drinking, vegetarian yoga practitioner with the blood pressure and cholesterol of a monk. No family history of cancer, either. And piano teaching is hardly a high-risk profession. When I turned 44, I had my entire medical history in a manila folder marked "medical". (You see what's coming don't you, Kossack? When I see pictures of myself from "before", it's like the scene in the scary movie where the sleepy girl wanders down to the frig in nothing but a t-shirt. I'm just glad she didn't know what was about to happen to her.)
    Immediately after diagnosis, Assurant Health launched a fraud investigation, the almost humorously absurd details of which I diaried about here:

    I fought the attempted rescission, and "won". It has proved to be a hollow victory. Evidently what I won was the right to have a painful insurance procedure called wealth extraction.  They have responded by raising my rates until I simply can't pay anymore.  
    I just got my latest renewal notice and this time my rates are going up another 33%. That makes approximately a 500% increase since I was diagnosed with breast cancer less than five years ago. So unless something drastic happens between now and when the premium is due, they still won. I give. I cannot work any more hours while under continuing treatment, and I don't really own anything anymore of enough value to sell on Craigslist except my piano, and to paraphrase the NRA, Assurant Health can pry my piano from my cold dead fingers.
  For the first time since my diagnosis, I am feeling hopeless. Something broke in me when I opened that renewal notice. To be honest, I just walked around for a good long time wailing. It's so demoralizing I can't even tell you. I fought hard (and was fortunate) to beat back a tough prognosis, I'm still able to work 60 hours per week at my successful business, but it still ruined my life. I am optimistic by nature and have tried to remain so but it seems that every time I put my hand up over the edge of the well, there is the Assurant boot, ready to come down hard on my fingers. I have been an indentured servant to Assurant Health, and now........
  Right at my lowest point, I saw McJoan's front page article about the denial of Wellpoint's rate increases. Why not Assurant? Why not me? Dare I hope to hang on til 2014, when I might be able to get on the exchange?
    Who wants to take a minute to help me do to Assurant what was done to Wellpoint? Because a person's life should not depend on which letterhead their policy was written on.    
    Here are some emails, addresses and phone numbers. (Yes, Virginia, unfortunately I live in Virginia.)

Virginia Bureau of Insurance:
Toll Free Phone (Nationwide): 1-877-310-6560
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1157 Richmond, Virginia 23218

Assurant Health
Corporate Headquarters (CEO = Don Hamm)
501 W. Michigan St.
PO Box 3050
Milwaukee, WI
Toll Free Phone (Nationwide): 1-800-800-1212

I also plan to:

  1. Contact my state reps and Congressperson (Jim Moran) and Senators.
  1. Go to and poke around, see if anyone can help
  1. Contact my local paper and/or news station?
  1. Eat some chocolate
  1. Write HHS Secretary Sibelius
  1. Write White House health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle
  1. Write AHIP president and chief executive Karen Ignagni (no I'm not going to put lutefisk in the envelope, why do you ask?)

Any other suggestions? Positive energy?

A final thought, in which I restate the obvious: No sick person should have to spend whatever precious time they have left on the planet this way. And no one should have to send their retirement savings to millionaires in a desperate effort to reach retirement age.
Paradoxically, I do know how fortunate I am. I'm insured, they didn't drop me, I received great care at Georgetown University Hospital, and so far I survived. But I'm hanging on by my fingernails and crying over my bills when I should be enjoying whatever time I have left on our beautiful planet, and helping my sisters who are on the same path. I just worked so hard to help pass the health care reform bill. It would be a shame for me to go down now, wouldn't it?


Originally posted to kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:21 AM PDT.


Should kareylou have to sell her piano and go out of business so that Don Hamm can install a gold faucet in the third bathroom of the east wing of the second yacht?

100%25 votes

| 25 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

    by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:21:15 AM PDT

  •  Brave lady piano teacher... (6+ / 0-)

    I WILL ACCEPT YOUR QUEST! Unfair, unjust and inhumane.  

    Just play "Stardust" for me while I type and call. :)  

  •  creative challenge (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    comment in a health care diary without using the following words:
    pony, unicorn, reality-based, reading comprehension, chess.
    These tend to bring the discourse to a grinding halt.

    To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

    by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:29:42 AM PDT

  •  This is my biggest fear for those who are (8+ / 0-)

    depending on HRC to change things.  It won't matter if insurance companies can't rescind, they will blow you out with rate and other types of increases.  Russ Feingold is the great Senator from WI, see if he will help you with his fine corporate citizen Assurant.

    "When fascism comes to America, it'll be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis

    by lakehillsliberal on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:30:15 AM PDT

    •  great suggestion n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

      by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:32:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I did. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

      by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 08:17:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Let us know how that goes, please? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Or did you do it already and are waiting to hear back or his office is not helping...

        Here's hoping for the best possible result for you.

        Life can only be understood in reverse / But must be lived forwards - Mustaine

        by zett on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:06:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I misunderstood - You did write and are waiting (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Now I got it.  Sorry, ignore my comment.

          Life can only be understood in reverse / But must be lived forwards - Mustaine

          by zett on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:20:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  small update (0+ / 0-)

            I took a sick day from my second job Friday (hey I have cancer I can take a sick day without lying whenever I decide to--first time I have though) and wrote all the letters suggested, wrote Assurant, filed an inquiry with the Virginia Bureau of Insurance.
            I somehow couldn't do it while remaining emotionally detached. I spent a whole day immersing myself in a "cancer victim" mentality, restating my dire circumstances over and over, and by the end of the day I no longer felt like the healthy person putting it behind me that I had on that beautiful spring morning before I opened the envelope.
            When I emotionally recover a little, I'm going to contact some of the breast cancer organizations, several of which I have done volunteer work for, and see if they can help.
            Something will happen--it just has to. We just passed health care reform, I beat the cancer, I have to be able to make a decent life.  I don't want to be like that poor young man from Into the Wild who starved to death within walking distance of a major road. Sorry for the dark analogy. Tough couple days.

            To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

            by kareylou on Sat May 01, 2010 at 08:41:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I just sent you a little something by PayPal. (5+ / 0-)

    Kindly play a song for me.  Perhaps some old protest tune that Pete Seeger knows. Cheers.

  •  Would you be elligible for the high risk pool? (3+ / 0-)

    Or whatever that's called.  I'm on a bunch of meds for allergies, so forgive me if this seems ditzy.  But I think you should look into that pools eligibility and when it opens.  Research it and hold on as long as you can, as I was just reading this morning that people who are already in State level high risk pools aren't eligible to switch to the federal program.

    I hope that helps, but you got the right attitude.  Don't let them beat you down, if you can lick cancer you can beat the assholes.

    We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately - Ben Franklin

    by DanD on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 07:46:36 AM PDT

  •  you are very brave (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nonnie9999, kareylou

    As I'm reading your heart-wrenching diary, I keep thinking to myself that if this was me, I'd start chaining myself to their front door.  Every day.

    When do I get to vote on your marriage?

    by tvb on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 08:39:35 AM PDT

  •  Why are you doing this to kareylou, Don Hamm? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zett, relentless, nonnie9999, kareylou

    Assurant Health is a private company led many years by Don Hamm, an actuary and career insurance guy who is also an exec w/ AHIP, he made $2,057,580 last year.

    Don Hamm also serves on the Board of its parent company, Assurant, Inc., led by Robert Pollock whose total compensation for 2009 was $6,444,200.

    I suggest in addition to your plan, to make it personal (like linking their names to this blog). Send a public letter to Mr. Hamm and Mr. Pollack, who both recently sold lots of Assurant stock. Ask them if their ROE and stockholder value can withstand your continued coverage or do they insist that you pawn your remaining possessions to pay one more month of high-stress junk coverage before your wealth is exhausted and you painfully make your way to public assistance.

    We're all in this together, for the long haul, kareylou, even though most well-covered employer group insureds and/or young vital innocents don't quite realize it yet or fathom the consequences. I do hope you'll make it to 2014 but it's commerce so wealth extraction will still be the name of the game, just in a different colored box and new rules.

    Good luck.

  •  BTW, your insurer was invited to participate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nonnie9999, kareylou the House's health insurance reform meetings. Here's Don Hamm's House testimony on Individual policies from last summer.

  •  "You're in Bad Hands" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nonnie9999, kareylou

    Maybe you can join forces with other victims of Assurant:

    ...the whopping $37 million bad-faith verdict a Boulder jury recently awarded to Jennifer Latham, a mother of four who was severely injured in a 2005 auto accident -- and then had her insurance taken away by Assurant Health because she supposedly misrepresented her medical history on an application she submitted months earlier....

    Hamm told the assembled his company's applications ask straightforward, easy-to-understand questions. But when Michigan representative Bart Stupak asked him to answer one of the questions on the application -- well, see what happens starting about ninety seconds into the video embedded above.

    For more of Hamm'sduel with Stupak, go here. And don't miss the testimony of Peggy Raddatz about how Assurant Health (also known as Fortis and Time) pulled her brother Otto's health insurance during chemotherapy because of notes in his prior medical records about gallstones that Otto's doctor never told him about.

    •  well they didn't rescind my policy (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but this still might be useful information. I could start a letter with "Does the name Jennifer Latham mean anything to you?"

      To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

      by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:39:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think your diary got swamped by all the news (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    But let us know what you find out from your poking around and calling.

    •  Please don't say that (0+ / 0-)

      I'm so demoralized already. I guess health care reform is so, like, last week. Just got off the phone with Assurant. I'm just not good at this stuff. They're not going to budge. I'm going to keep at it though. I will let you know. Thanks.

      To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

      by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 10:50:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What reason(s) does Assurant give (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        for the massive rate increases?

        Are they increasing the rate just for you, or for everyone in the state in the self-employed insurance market?

        •  on the phone they said (0+ / 0-)

          everyone in the state. They offered to entertain an appeals letter, which I am now writing, but said that it would be "illegal" for them to change my rate and no one else's, so it's not likely to have an affect. Here's their rationale:

          At renewal time, premiums change to reflect the rising cost of health care. Your plan design and the benefits you choose also play a role. Based on these factors, effective 07/01/2010,

          In the letter I challenge them to prove that the rising cost of health care warrants a 30% increase in premiums in one year. My plan design has not changed, and the benefits I "choose" have decreased with every renewal, in the form of increasing deductible and copays.

          I really wasn't very good on the phone. I got emotional. About my own demise.

          To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

          by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 11:16:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Okay (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            So going back to last night's diary, where I pointed out that the charter for the Insurance Commission was partly to insure fairly priced premiums.

            If 30% increases are not acceptable in California, if 30% increases are not acceptable in Maine, if 30% increases are not acceptable in Massachusetts (google for more info on these shot-down -- at least for the nonce -- rate increases) then why are 30% increases acceptable in Virginia?

            This seems like a likely line of attack, and something you could raise with the Insurance commission on behalf of everyone in your shoes.  Now, of course you couldn't be expected to be on the front-line of this battle all by yourself.  

            It seems likely that there is some consumer-advocate organization in Virginia that is fighting this, just as these increases are being fought in CA, ME, MA.  Maybe you can locate such an organization.

            I would definitely try contacting your Senators' offices.  It's hard to believe that Webb and Warner would want to miss out on attacking insurance companies, even if they are somewhat conservative!
            CA Senators have gotten a lot of mileage out of these attacks, why not Webb and Warner?

            I understand that this all seems pie-in-the-sky when confronted by a bill that has to be paid like, in a couple of weeks.  But these are the only things I can think of.

            •  thanks (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I'm currently filling out some form for one of those organizations. And thanks for not beating up on me for living in Virginia.

              To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

              by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 12:50:21 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  I did these too. Thank you thank you n/t (0+ / 0-)

              To keep our faces turned toward change, and behave as free spirits in the presence of fate, that is strength undefeatable--Helen Keller

              by kareylou on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 08:22:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Check this out (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:


            From the VA Insurance Commission page, click on the
            Consumer button on the left and then

            Consumer Alert: Health Insurance Rates in Virginia

            •  Informative (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              The premium rates associated with individual policies of accident and sickness insurance issued in Virginia by health insurers and health services plans must be submitted to and approved by the Bureau of Insurance before they can be implemented. This includes the initial rates as well as rate changes...

              A health insurer requesting a premium rate increase for an individual accident and sickness insurance policy in Virginia must demonstrate that the premium rate is reasonable in relation to the benefits provided under the policy. To appropriately make such a demonstration, the insurer must furnish information substantiating that the projected future and life time loss ratio applicable to the policy is equal to or greater than the percentage required by Virginia law. A loss ratio represents the amount of a premium dollar that is being consumed by losses. The minimum loss ratio requirements in Virginia range from 45% to 60% depending upon the type of product involved, the average premium applicable to the policy, and the conditions under which the policy may be renewed, but by far the most typical individual policy of accident and sickness insurance in Virginia must achieve a loss ratio of at least 60%. In simple terms, then, the insurer must demonstrate that it will pay at least $.60 in claim payments for every $1.00 it receives in premium payments. While premium rates in Virginia can not be priced to achieve a loss ratio lower than the regulatory standards, they can be priced to achieve a higher loss ratio. There are companies operating in Virginia that have priced one or more of their products to achieve loss ratios in excess of the minimums prescribed by law.

              Are insurers prohibited from raising premium rates beyond a certain percentage in any given period of time?
              No. Virginia insurance law does not specify a maximum or "cap" beyond which an insurer is prohibited from further raising premium rates. As long as an insurer can demonstrate compliance with the applicable requirements relating to the rates in question, its rate increase request must be approved.

      •  I've pointed out your diary (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nonnie9999, kareylou

        to slink, who is very involved in the health care battle.  I'm hoping she has some more suggestions for you.

  •  As always, kareylou, your story (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nonnie9999, kareylou

    absolutely pains me. And never worry - you always come across as someone with a great spirit despite all the difficulties you're enduring.

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