2 Cents May Mean the Difference Between Receiving Lifesaving Surgery or Not

ABC News went in search of answers to try and right this wrong.

ByABC News
January 26, 2011, 12:17 PM

Jan. 26, 2011 -- What can make the difference between receiving a potentially lifesaving surgery or not?

For Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan, Ceridian Cobra Services determined it's 2 cents.

Flanagan has multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, which he has been fighting since September 2008. He now needs a third stem cell transplant surgery but had lost his health coverage over a 2 cent error.

Ceridian Cobra Services, an insurance benefits administrator, dropped Ron Flanagan after his wife, Frances Flanagan, said she mistakenly substituted a 7 for a 9 when she paid their monthly health insurance premium of $328.69 online.

"If I only had just hit the 9 instead of the 7," Frances Flanagan told ABC News' Denver affiliate, KMGH-TV. "Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this."

And as of today, what 2 cents was able to undo, ABC News was able to help redo. When ABC News called Ceridian to comment on the story the company delivered unexpected news.

"We've reviewed the situation thoroughly," said Bart Valdez, Chief Commercial Officer for Ceridian. "And we're pleased to say...Mr. Flannigan's insurance coverage was reinstated."

When asked whether he would offer Flannigan an apology, Valdez said, "For what specifically? ... We followed the normal procedures that were in complete compliance with the law and with regualtions."

Doctors at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, where Ron Flanagan was undergoing treatment, had a stem cell donor at the ready and had told Flanagan they needed to complete the transplant before the end of February, that was before he lost his insurance. As of today Flanagan is trying to get back on the transplant list.

Flanagan was at the hospital preparing for a bone biopsy when his wife orignally delivered the disappointing news.

"The nurses were just getting ready to do the biopsy when my wife popped into the office and told them, 'Stop. We don't have any insurance,'" Flanagan told KMGH.

In a written statement to KMGH prior to be contacted by ABC News, Ceridian said, "We did not receive a full and timely payment and [Mrs. Flanagan] was provided several notices of the shortage and a grace period reminder notice on the last invoice, along with extended grace dates as provided for under COBRA regulations.

"Since the payment was not full," the statement continues, "it fit into the definition in the regulations of an 'insufficient payment.' ... Ceridian understands nothing is more important than one's health. ... Unfortunately, we simply do not have the capacity to be able to personally call continuants and remind them of the status of their Cobra benefits."

"They never did a certified letter," said Ron Flanagan. "They never made a phone call. As far as I'm concerned, they're looking for a way to drop you."

Flanagan said he and his wife only received a December billing statement that showed the 2 cent shortage. But it was not clear to them that payment was past due, and they did not include the 2 cents in their December payment, which they paid in full.