BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A woman on the verge of losing her health insurance has been fighting for nearly four months to keep it. Set to lose coverage at the end of March, she called the 9News Investigators for help.
"I really don't know what I'm going to do," said Sonia Stewart.
Stewart broke down in tears because on March 31st, her health insurance may be canceled. That's because she owes more than a $1,000 to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana.
"They're going to cancel my insurance. I'm not going to be able to make it," said Stewart.
But Stewart said that $1,000 balance is not her fault and she should not have to pay for it. She currently is a substitute cafeteria worker for East Baton Rouge Parish schools. Her employment status is on a "when they need her" basis so she relies on Affordable Care for health insurance.
The federal government's health plan is known as Marketplace.
Marketplace looks at a person's financial situation and directs that person to the best health insurance option for them without charging any fees.
"They chose Blue Cross Blue Shield for me," said Stewart.
For a few years, Stewart said things were great. The most she paid for health insurance was $33/month. But Dec. 2015, it was time to renew so she called Marketplace.
"They gave me a $969 premium. I hung up. I called back because I thought they had it wrong. With that, I asked them what was my portion of it. They told me the $969 per month," said Stewart.
Stewart's monthly statements from Blue Cross Blue Shield show how her bill went from $0 up to more than $1,000. Dec. 2015 & Jan. 2016, the bills are $0. Then in Feb., her bill all of a sudden was $969.11.
Stewart: Marketplace has chosen a plan for me with Blue Cross which was $969.
Kiran: Did you authorize that plan?
Stewart: No ma'am, I refused that plan over the phone.
"There was a supervisor who said we just put you into a plan similar to what you previously had. Ma'am the plan I previously had was zero balance. How could you put me in a similar plan where it comes from a zero balance monthly to $969 a month," Stewart asked of the Marketplace supervisor.
Instead, Stewart called Blue Cross Blue Shield on her own to figure out where the $969 premium was coming from.
Kiran: What did they say?
Stewart: They gave me a premium of $71.
Kiran: A month?
Stewart: A month, which would be a struggle. The plan was better and it's something I could barely afford but I was able to do because I'm on some very expensive medicine.
Stewart said she accepted the $71 premium, which was up from her old premium of $33.
But she said they told her it would be the following month that it kicked in. When she received her March bill, to her surprise, she had an outstanding balance of $969 that she did not approve plus the $71 she did authorize. The total she owed Blue Cross now was $1,040.22. As she tried to resolve that, her April bill came in with another month of the $71 premium. She now owed $1,111.33.
Stewart: Right now, they're also about to cancel my insurance and they want their payment in full by the end of this month (March).
Kiran: Can you make that?
Stewart: No ma'am.
Kiran: Can you afford a $969 premium?
Stewart: No ma'am, I don't even make $900 a month.
Stewart suffers from ulcerative colitis and osteoporosis and relies on medication.
"I'm at the end of my prescriptions at the time because of the mistake Marketplace has made that I cannot afford," said Stewart.
Nor can she go to any doctor's appointments because of this mess up. Stewart said Blue Cross Blue Shield only did what Marketplace told them to do.
Since December, she said she's repeatedly called Marketplace begging for help taking notes from each call, but so far, no response.
Kiran: Would you go back to them?
Stewart: No ma'am. I am trying to escape them.
Wednesday, the 9News Investigators called Marketplace headquarters in Washington D.C.
"We have certain processes and procedures we require press to fill out," said a Marketplace representative.
The 9News Investigators filled out the required form for an interview. The national Marketplace directed the 9News Investigators to the Louisiana branch called Healthy Louisiana.
After the 9News Investigators started digging, the local branch has now launched an investigation into Stewart's premium increase and a representative is scheduled to meet with Stewart Thursday.
Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield has also now been in touch with Stewart. She said they're working with her to try to keep her insurance while this is worked out.