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US patient gets $9.4 mln in punitive damages
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A U.S. woman got 9.4 million U.S. dollars in a case against her health insurer that canceled her medical coverage when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, according to media reports Sunday.

Patsy Bates, a hairdresser, was dropped by her insurer Health Net in January 2004. Then she was stuck with more than 129,000 U.S. dollars in medical bills and was forced to stop chemotherapy for several months until she found a charity to pay for it.

Bates had health insurance with another company for several years before a Health Net broker solicited and enrolled her in an individual insurance policy in August of 2003.

Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer a month later, and began chemotherapy treatments but had just three of eight planned treatments when Health Net pulled the plug, contending she had lied about her weight and a heart problem on her application.

"It's hard to imagine a situation more trying than the one Bates has had to endure," arbitration judge Sam Cianchetti wrote in the decision. "The rug was pulled out from underneath, and that occurred at a time when she is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death for women."

She ordered Health Net to repay Bates' medical bills while providing 8.4 million dollars in punitive damages and 750,000 dollars for emotional distress.

Bates said she screamed and thanked the lawyer when she heard the news of award. "I thanked God," she said, "I praised the Lord."

Health Net said in a statement that, while it does not agree with some of arbitration judge Sam Cianchetti's conclusions, it will immediately adopt a review process for all policy cancellations.

Health Net Chief Executive Jay Gellert ordered an immediate halt to cancellations and said that the company would be changing its coverage applications and retraining its sales force.

"I felt bad about what happened to her," he said. "I feel bad about the whole situation."

According to media reports, Health Net's still has three other cancellation lawsuits pending in California, including a proposed class action mounted by William Shernoff, Bates' lawyer. That case seeks damages on behalf of 1,600 people whose policies were allegedly illegally canceled over the last four years.

(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2008)

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