Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Aged, Frail and Denied Care by Their Insurers


Published: March 26, 2007 CONRAD, Mont. — Mary Rose Derks was a 65-year-old widow in 1990, when she began preparing for the day she could no longer care for herself. Every month, out of her grocery fund, she scrimped together about $100 for an insurance policy that promised to pay eventually for a room in an assisted living home.

On a May afternoon in 2002, after bouts of hypertension and diabetes had hospitalized her dozens of times, Mrs. Derks reluctantly agreed that it was time. She shed a few tears, watched her family pack her favorite blankets and rode to Beehive Homes, five blocks from her daughter’s farm equipment dealership.

At least, Mrs. Derks said at the time, she would not be a financial burden on her family.
But when she filed a claim with her insurer, Conseco, it said she had waited too long. Then it said Beehive Homes was not an approved facility, despite its state license. Eventually, Conseco argued that Mrs. Derks was not sufficiently infirm, despite her early-stage dementia and the 37 pills she takes each day.

After more than four years, Mrs. Derks, now 81, has yet to receive a penny from Conseco, while her family has paid about $70,000. Her daughter has sent Conseco dozens of bulky envelopes and spent hours on the phone. Each time the answer is the same: Denied.

Yet thousands of policyholders say they have received only excuses about why insurers will not pay. Interviews by The New York Times and confidential depositions indicate that some long-term-care insurers have developed procedures that make it difficult — if not impossible — for policyholders to get paid.

“The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don’t pay claims,” said Mary Beth Senkewicz, who resigned last year as a senior executive at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “They’ll do anything to avoid paying, because if they wait long enough, they know the policyholders will die.”

Yet these concerns have been ignored by state regulators, advocates say, and have gone unnoticed by federal lawmakers who recently passed incentives intended to promote purchases of long-term-care policies, in the hopes of forestalling a Medicare funding crisis.

Conseco and Bankers Life “made it so hard to make a claim that people either died or gave up,” said Betty J. Hobel, a former Bankers Life agent in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “When someone is 70 or 80 years old,” she said, “how many times are they going to try before they just give up?”

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