When facing a life-threatening illness, you shouldn’t have to wonder how you’re going to pay for the care to stay alive. Especially if you have health insurance. Seventeen-year-old Jerome Mitchell found this out the hard way in 2002 after being diagnosed with HIV.
The young college student had bought health insurance in 2001 and fully expected that his insurance would cover the treatments necessary to keep him alive. He was wrong. Shortly after his HIV diagnosis, his insurance company, Fortis – now Assurant Health, part of Assurant, Inc., revoked his insurance coverage leaving Mitchell facing full-blown AIDS within one or two years without treatment.
Mitchell thought there was perhaps a mistake somewhere and hired an attorney to help him sort out the insurance company’s decision. The insurance company ignored all requests from Mitchell’s attorney and others who were trying to help him sort out the mess and in the end, Mitchell sued the insurance company.
In 2004 – two years after diagnosis – a Florence County, South Carolina jury ordered Assurant to pay Mitchell $15 million for wrongly revoking his health insurance.
Records from Mitchell’s case showed that the insurance company had a company policy of targeting insured policyholders diagnosed with HIV. The company routinely searched for any pretext to revoke insurance policies of anyone with an HIV diagnosis and Mitchell was one of those whose policy was revoked. According to records, the company routinely found flimsy or erroneous reasons to cancel policies. For Mitchell, Assurant pounced upon a handwritten note from a nurse with an incorrect date of diagnosis for their reason to revoke coverage.
In 2009, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the previous jury’s decision and agreed with the lower court that Fortis/Assurant had destroyed records in an attempt to cover up evidence of misconduct in Mitchell’s suit against the company. The Supreme Court lowered the amount to be paid to Mitchell to $10 million.
Federal investigators have stated they believe the reason HIV-diagnosed patients were targeted was due to the long-term and expensive costs of care. In the end, thanks to the monetary settlement to Mitchell, Assurant will be ensuring Mitchell receives the medical care he needs.