In the patient's corner

photo f hematologist William Blum with other staffers

When Smith’s insurance provider said she had no coverage, hematologist William Blum worked with others at Winship to make sure she got the care she needed.

Winship Cancer Institute

When Luella Smith got sick, really sick, she requested medical leave from the call center where she worked. Just a few weeks, until she felt stronger. Three days later, she was told she had acute myeloid leukemia.

At Winship Cancer Institute, the 45-year-old was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant. Then the notice arrived. Her insurance would no longer pay her medical bills. The company belatedly had realized that Smith was no longer working—and that she had not applied or paid for coverage through COBRA, a federal law that allows employees to continue employer-sponsored insurance for a limited time after leaving work.

Smith was confused. COBRA? She didn’t remember anyone ever mentioning this. Since she was on medical leave, she thought she had coverage. No? How could she reimburse the insurance company for what they had already paid Emory? And how would she pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the scheduled transplant and long recovery time?

Hematologist William Blum and the transplant team stayed focused on Smith’s medical case. Financial counseling manager Adam Yasin took up her financial case. After a review of her income (none) and resources (few), her expenses were deemed charity care, meaning Emory Healthcare would not be reimbursed. Now, as Smith recovers from a successful transplant, Yasin is acting as her advocate, helping her appeal to be able to sign up for COBRA retroactively, based on not having been given a proper opportunity to do so when she left. If she succeeds, her insurance company will pay for medical costs incurred. If she is not allowed to begin COBRA, then Emory Healthcare itself will cover her medical costs, including the transplant.

Yasin says, “She’s sick and without many people in her corner. Emory wasn’t going to abandon her.”