AUGUSTA, Maine — Theresa D’Andrea lost her husband two weeks ago, but she’s left with more than grief and a broken heart. She’s also dealing with $60,000 in unpaid medical bills.
Her husband, Rocky, surpassed a $250,000 lifetime cap on his health insurance policy, something they hadn’t considered. They thought they were adequately covered through his employer’s insurance.
“When we ran out of funding, I had no other place to turn. So I threw caution to the wind and did what we had to do,” D’Andrea said. “It got ugly pretty quick.”
The Limerick woman became well-known around the State House for her testimony in favor of a bill to ban lifetime insurance caps. Her story won even greater recognition from President Barack Obama, who acknowledged her ordeal during his health care rally last week in Portland.
D’Andrea didn’t know the difference between a lifetime cap and annual cap when her husband took a job with a security company. They were just happy to have employer-provided health insurance.
All was fine until Rocky was diagnosed with advanced-stage skin cancer in 2008. Because the cancer had spread, Rocky’s doctor gave him a 30 percent chance of living another five years, she said.
He made it only 18 months.
But he didn’t go down without a fight. The couple adopted an aggressive treatment plan that included the drug Proleuken, delivered at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The drug cost $9,000 a pop, and treatment came at six-hour intervals. His health care was costing $36,000 a day, just for the medicine.
He reached the $250,000 lifetime cap in a flash, and the bills kept on coming.
D’Andrea, 55, spent her retirement fund. She used credit cards to pay medical bills and maxed them out. She fell behind on her mortgage. She stopped going to the doctor to save money for her husband’s care. She blocked the numbers of creditors to keep them from tying up her phone line and causing her more grief.
“If Rocky needed something, he got it. He was No. 1, and I told him that. I hope I kept my promise to him. I love him very dearly,” D’Andrea said.
Her boss, Beverly Baker, said the unpaid bills weighed on D’Andrea, but she didn’t let on to her husband. But Rocky D’Andrea knew the bills were mounting.
“When Rocky would get anxious about it, she’d say, ‘That’s not your problem.’ She’d say, ‘We’ve got to get you better,”’ Baker said. “It’s been a tough time.”
Before Rocky D’Andrea’s death, the couple went to Augusta to attend a news conference promoting a bill to ban any caps — lifetime or annual — on health insurance in Maine. Theresa D’Andrea returned in February by herself — her husband was too ill — to testify at a public hearing for the bill.
Through her work in family advocacy, D’Andrea asked people to stand up for themselves. She said she would’ve been a hypocrite if she didn’t follow her own advice.
“When people take a look and probe into the human side of it, you put a face to it, a name to it, a death to it. It can’t help but to be more real,” she said.
House Majority Whip Seth Berry, the bill’s sponsor, said Tuesday the D’Andreas put a human face on the problem that insurance caps cause for families. He said nearly two-thirds of bankruptcies are related to health care costs. Eliminating insurance caps will help and won’t have a major impact on premiums, he said.
Rocky D’Andrea died on March 22, just days before the insurance cap legislation received final approval. On the same day of Obama’s visit, Baldacci signed the bill into law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. The federal health care overhaul also eliminates lifetime caps within a year and annual caps by 2014.
On Tuesday, Theresa D’Andrea joined Berry, D-Bowdoinham, Baldacci and other lawmakers in the governor’s Cabinet Room for a ceremonial signing of the bill.
She said she’s still getting used to the idea that Rocky isn’t around. But, she added, he would be happy to know that something good came out of the family’s ordeal.
“This is just a wonderful epitaph for him,” she said.