Patsy Bates is a self-employed hairdresser who was in the middle of cancer treatment when Health Net, one of California's biggest health care companies, canceled her coverage.
Bates told ABC News, "I have two chemotherapy sessions, then we find out the surgeon hasn't been paid. The anaesthesiologist hasn't been paid, and the cancer doctor has not been paid."
With $200,000 in medical bills, she sued for $6 million. Her lawsuit revealed that Health Net actually set goals for its employees to cancel policies, and the carrier paid more than $20,000 in bonuses to its senior cancellation specialist.
Court documents show that over six years Health Net canceled 1,600 policies, avoiding at least $35.5 million in medical expenses. In 2002, the goal was set at 180 cancellations and was exceeded by its cancellation specialist, who dropped 275 policies that year.
The cancellation specialist's supervisor wrote on the employee's 2005 evaluation, "Barbara's successful execution of her job responsibilities have been vital to the profitability of the [Individual Family Policy] product line."
Bates said she was infuriated. "I was very angry and very devastated that they would put money above people's lives. We're dealing with people's lives here."
Health Net says the information on Bates' application was either inaccurate or incomplete, and its policy is to eliminate customers who don't tell the truth. Virtually every major insurer in the country has been accused of abandoning sick patients, and some of these companies have been fined.
But Bates' fight goes beyond the courtroom. "I don't want to die. I want to fight. These people are wrong."