What to Know
If your health insurance plan is cancelled for any reason, you have the right to appeal within 30 days
The California Department of Insurance and Department of Managed Health Care review consumer complaints against health insurance providers
April Meagher describes her husband Steve as a devoted father, a savvy business owner, and a funny, loveable man.
"My husband was pretty silly," April said, wiping away tears. "He played the bagpipes. He rode a unicycle... so many people liked him."
Steve also rode a giant-wheel bicycle known as a penny-farthing, and had planned to ride it from the family's home in Orinda to Oregon. He stayed active, and April says a cardiologist told Steve early this year he was in great health for a 54-year-old.
"He ate healthy," April said. "He ran a couple of times a month. He was swimming four days a week."
Just weeks after that doctor visit, Steve collapsed while out for a run with friends. It was a heart attack, and Steve did not survive.
"He was the epitome of health," April said. "Had this happened to him, of all people..."
The shock of losing her husband was followed by another shock. While sympathy cards were pouring in, April got an unexpected letter from their health insurance provider.
"As soon as I notified them that he passed away, they sent me a bill for $9,600," she said.
April says Blue Shield of California claimed it had had been under-charging the Meagher family for more than two years, and it intended to collect.
"They expected me to pay all of these past premiums that they had never billed me for," April said. "When I complained, they just said, 'Well, we will file a grievance, but we expect you to pay these bills.'"
Steve had died just 19 days earlier, but April says Blue Shield gave her less than a month to pay the nearly $10,000 invoice. Otherwise, the policy that covered April and her two daughters could be canceled.
That's when April turned to NBC Bay Area. We reached out to Blue Shield of California. It declined to comment, citing privacy rules. But within days, April told us the $9,696.30 bill was cleared.
"I knew that if I didn't come this route, that the insurance company would continue to hassle me and expect me to cover a bill that they had decided, all of a sudden, that I needed to pay," April said.
We wanted to know: can insurance companies hike rates retroactively?
The California Department of Insurance told us no, they cannot.
So, what happened with the Meagher family? We're not entirely sure. We encountered the same red tape April faced as we looked for answers.
April is still frustrated, and she's speaking up because she fears other families have faced the same ordeal.
"There's probably someone out there who got a bill like this, and thought they didn't have any choice to pay it," April said. "They may have lost their health care as a result of that, and that's wrong."
In California, all health insurance providers must give you at least 30 days notice before canceling a policy. You also have the right to appeal.
If you have problems with your health insurance provider, you can call the California Department of Insurance (CDI) Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. If you prefer, you can contact CDI using this form.
CDI can also help with complaints about certian health insurance providers. Learn more here: https://cdiapps.insurance.ca.gov/CP/login/
The California Department of Managed Health Care regulates many health insurance plans across the state. You can get help by calling 888-466-2219 or by visiting the DMHC consumer website.
You may be able to get help with other health plan problems from the California Health and Human Service Agency Office of the Patient Advocate. Learn more by calling 888-466-2219 or visiting their website.