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School teacher with cancer has insurance cut off during chemo

Photo: Art teacher Lis Bech

Lis Bech, an award-winning art teacher in our public schools for 19 years, tried to schedule her regular bi-monthly ovarian cancer chemotherapy treatment recently, only to learn the Indian River School District had cancelled her health insurance and she was on the hook for $6,000.

Shocked and scared, Bech called the district’s benefits department, but no one would take her call. Employees had been warned in a district-wide email that Hurricane Matthew had delayed open enrollment data entry and “Employee Benefits will not be taking calls and/or appointments.”

She was allowed to email, however, and got a response. “They told me in an email that I was no longer on the district insurance, and it was my fault because I filled out the form incorrectly,” Bech said.

“I’m very expensive right now. I think they’re trying to drop me,” Bech said. “Just one of the drugs I’m taking is $9,000 each time.”

The School District is self-insured and client services, such as help with enrollment, leave much to be desired. This year it sent out an email, disregarding those without computers or a district email account, informing employees everyone had to enroll all over again, not just those with plan changes. 

The email provided no further explanation.

Sign-up lasted one week, and School District employees had two choices: take time off from work to get help at the administration office, which turned people away who had been waiting in line for hours, or fill out the forms online.

Missing the enrollment window or filling out the forms wrong would result in being dropped, another email warned.

“I can’t stand for hours, so I filled it out online,” Bech said.  “There was no way to know if you had filled out the form wrong. Is the benefits department so understaffed that no one had five minutes to send an email or call people in jeopardy?

“I’m appalled at how the district has handled this and am ashamed to say that I have worked so hard for an entity that cares so little about their staff,” Bech said. “Teacher morale is so low now people are retiring in droves, or if they’re younger, they’re switching jobs.”

Bech’s daughter, Ellie Houston, said, “This is not just a screw-up. This is a matter of life and death for her. She has stage-four ovarian cancer. It will never go away. She will have to battle it until she goes into hospice care. This could be the end of everything for her.”

Bech’s oncologist has agreed to continue the chemotherapy treatments, even if her insurance is dropped, but her prescriptions and other medical costs are also cost-prohibitive.

“I don’t want to pass away now,” Bech said.

After learning she’d been dropped, Bech took a day off to try to straighten out the problem. “They’re self-insured, they’re their own entity,” she said. “But they say there are federal and state laws preventing them from letting me back in.”

The next day she went back to work.

“I’m not coming in out of fear of the district. I’m coming here for my kids and for me. I love what I do.”

School district spokesman Flynn Fidgeon said no comment on Bech is allowed, because it is a personnel issue.
The district did not respond to questions about the short enrollment period, lack of administrative help and subscribers being dropped for filling out forms incorrectly.