Health care administrator sentences veteran to death over two cents

Public outrage forces profit-hungry company to reverse decision

January 30, 2011
By Bill Hackwell

Ron Flanagan, a Vietnam veteran, was in the final preparations for receiving stem cell treatment for bone marrow cancer when he found out that he had been dropped by his health insurance carrier for a two-cent error in an electronic premium payment.

Instead of putting the correct amount in for $328.69, Ron's wife Frances inadvertently keyed in the amount for $328.67. For two pennies, Ceridian Cobra Services dropped the Flanagans’ coverage at a life-and-death juncture in Ron’s life.

Ceridian, as it turns out, is not even a health insurer, but rather a third-party administrator that coordinates human resource services including health insurance to other companies. In other words, Ceridian is part of another parasitic layer in a health care system where profits trump a person’s health.

Ron Flanagan and his family are sure that his cancer is a direct result of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is a highly toxic defoliant that was part of the U.S. military’s chemical warfare program dubbed Operation Ranch Hand.

During the war, the United States dropped 20 million gallons of Agent Orange with the intent to defoliate and sicken an entire nation. Almost 5 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and 500,000 horrific birth defects. This uncompensated legacy continues to cause health problems in Vietnam over 35 years later.

In the early part of 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finally opened the door for some 200,000 additional soldiers who, like Ron Flanagan, have illnesses from the dioxin-laced herbicide, to receive benefits. Those benefits are too late for many.

While the family was trying unsuccessfully to bring Ceridian Cobra to its senses, Ron Flanagan’s story was going viral on the web and sparking public outrage, forcing Ceridian Cobra to quickly reinstate his coverage. When ABC News contacted Bert Valdez, Ceridian’s chief commercial officer, he was asked if the Flanagans were going to be receiving an apology along with the reinstatement. Valdez’s responded: “For what specifically? We followed normal procedure and we were in complete compliance with the law.”

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