Garland transplant patient part of growing insurance crisis

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on November 12, 2010 at 10:35 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 13 at 9:07 PM

How long would it take you to come up with $1 million? A North Texas couple had six days to figure out how to save their daughter's life. She wasn't kidnapped. She desperately needed a liver transplant. But two days into her hospital stay, her insurance coverage ran out and that left her parents with a difficult decision to make.

They are part of a growing number of families getting stuck in the middle. These families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to cover transplants.

Eighteen to 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant. The Southwest Transplant Alliance estimates insurance issues create serious complications for five to ten percent of transplant patients, making a difficult time even worse.

The Null family of Garland thought they had a good insurance policy. But when then 7-year-old Tatum Null had Sudden Acute Liver Failure and needed a transplant, they discovered their policy had a $25,000 cap.

“All of a sudden, we’re thinking we’re going to suffer a financial death also,” said David Null, Tatum’s father.

Faced with a $750,000 medical bill, the Nulls were desperate.

They were told they would have a better chance of getting Medicaid if they divorced on paper. Sherry Null, who wasn’t working, would then qualify as a single mother.

“We weren’t going to go that route. All we figured was there has to be a better way,” said Sherry Null.

Tatum Null, who is now 12, has a hard time understanding why her parents went through such an ordeal. “It’s cruel. Why would someone have to go through that? Their child is dying. Why would you make them do that?” she asks.

The Nulls eventually qualified for Medicad when David had no choice but to turn down new clients. “People need coverage. Too many people in the insurance industry are making a fortune off people who are devastated by this,” said Sherry Null.

The Southwest Transplant Alliance says the Nulls' dilemma is common in the health care industry. People are either underinsured or make too much money to quality for government help. They urge the insured to understand their policies and the insurers to stop automatically saying no.

E-mail: sstoler@wfaa.com

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