Written by John Meyer
My dad started his career in the oil industry by pumping gas at a full service station. He never graduated from college, but he worked like a dog and retired from the corporate office about five years ago. All that time he spent in the office, I spent catching snapping turtles, crayfish, and bull frogs in the local ponds and streams. As a teenager, I used to tease my father that I was going to bankrupt the company he worked for and then buy him a sports car. The nonprofit environmental law firm I started never had the opportunity to sue his company before he retired.
My father received several promotions for his work, and with those promotions came moves to other states. I went to three middle schools and three high schools in four Midwestern states. Making and leaving new friends was not the most painful part of moving. Hobbling into my first day at a new high school on a pair of crutches hurt much more.
I would never encourage anyone to sit on an air mattress in the back of a truck. I tried it when we moved my father from his apartment to our new house. The wind caught the lip of the mattress and I barrel-rolled onto the highway going 55 mph. When I stopped and looked up, a semi was ten or twenty feet away. I did a few more barrel rolls as the semi driver crushed the mattress.
I didn’t have the right type of health insurance. More sophisticated people would I say I was out of network. The hospital staff were kind enough to help load me back into my mother’s truck. I sat in the front seat on the way to the next hospital that was in network.
In 2015, I got into a life-threatening ski accident at Big Sky Resort. The day of my accident my wife and I unknowingly skied into a closed area. The ski patrol found us and said the area we were in was not marked as closed. We skied back in bounds and I hit an unmarked cat track.
After spending a week in a coma, and a month between two hospitals, I filed a lawsuit and said any jury award or court settlement would be used to provide health care for the seasonal employees and a pay raise for the ski patrol. Big Sky Resort filed a counter lawsuit against me and said they would drop their counterclaim if I dropped my lawsuit and paid their attorney fees. The cases are making their way through the court system.
I had insurance through United Health Care at the time of my ski accident. United was one of the most profitable corporations in the entire United States in 2015. United allowed an in-network hospital to bill me more than my maximum out-of-pocket deductible. After paying more than my max out of pocket deductible, United also denied claims for the anesthesia that was used to plate one of my broken bones. The anesthesiologist hired a bill collector that has negatively impacted my credit score. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was in network or out. The claims were denied. I had the wrong kind of health insurance.
For profit health insurance companies like United are making millions of dollars for their executives and stockholders by charging too much for coverage and then denying insurance claims. It is wrong.
Ask your legislator to pass laws that prevent for-profit insurance companies from operating in Montana and prevent corporations from suing citizens in response to meritorious lawsuits.
John Meyer is the Executive Director of the Bozeman-based Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. He is the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year college (University of Montana). He spent less than $5,000 on his way to losing the last two Democratic primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives.