NY - Computer glitch blamed for errant cancellations

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NY - Computer glitch blamed for errant cancellations By THOMAS J. DOLAN News Staff Reporter 1/9/01

Community Blue mistakenly notified about 3,000 city employees, retirees and their dependents last week that their health insurance coverage had been canceled, according to company officials who admitted the error Monday. Officials for the health maintenance organization blamed the problem on a computer glitch.

Nevertheless, mailed notices sent by the company created mass confusion and concern among some employees, according to several city officials. The notices went to about 1,200 active employees and their families, including police officers, firefighters and others, as well as hundreds of retirees who also are covered under the city's policy.

"At first, you don't know who to be mad at, the city or Blue Cross," said Jay B. Duderwick, city director of citizen services, referring to Community Blue's parent corporation. "When you're employed for all these years, you don't expect to be without insurance."

Duderwick said he received three notices at his house - for himself, his wife and his daughter - but added: "One guy upstairs got eight letters because he has six kids."

To make matters worse, many of the notices arrived in Saturday's mail, when the HMO's offices are closed and phones are answered by a recorded message, city workers said.

Buffalo officials issued a computer message Monday morning to assure all employees there had been no change in health insurance coverage. Company executives also planned to send letters to reassure customers, according to a spokesman.

A city benefits coordinator received more than a dozen calls from anxious employees at her home over the weekend, and spokesmen said the company recorded 17 similar calls at its office.

"It's been a lot of confusion. Things like this shouldn't continue to happen," said Steven C. Miska, city director of compensation and benefits.

Duderwick described the scene when his mail arrived Saturday:

"At first, you wonder why they're sending you several letters. "(The letters) don't say anything straight-forward. You read it and turn it over and read the back and then it sinks in that it's a termination notice," he said.

Duderwick, who was scheduled for an expensive medical test Monday morning, said he and his wife had several anxious conversations about canceling the test. He also began to worry about injuries to his daughter, who was horseback riding when the mail arrived.

According to Linda Soltis, company spokeswoman, the problem occurred when the company attempted to change an internal identification number used for city workers covered under the company's Advantage plan.

"The change, which should have been invisible to the customer . . . triggered a notice that we send out . . . The notice should not have been sent out . . . because there was no break in coverage. It was merely an administrative change," she said.

Soltis also said the computer-generated notice is intended to notify customers who have lost their coverage, a requirement under federal law. However, she said: "The (computer) system does what you tell it to do. It (is) something that we should have caught."

She also apologized to customers for the confusion.


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), January 09, 2001

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