Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saluti Cahn discriminated against me because I was diabetic

In my last post, I talked about how forces are at work to strengthen the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also mentioned that I was once discriminated against on the job because of my diabetes, and promised that I'd tell that story in a future post. So here it is:

A few years ago, my employer at the time — Saluti Cahn, a small technical writing firm — tried to refuse to offer me the same health benefits as my non-diabetic coworkers. Since the company didn't have a group health insurance plan, we all had to get individual plans, which we were then reimbursed for. When I was offered the job and this was explained to me, I disclosed that I was diabetic, and that an individual health insurance plan might be expensive or even impossible for me to get. I was offered the job anyway.

As it turned out, I was right. No health insurance company would sell me an individual plan; the only way I was able to find coverage was by getting a conversion plan with the same company that had covered me under my parents' plan while I was in college. It was initially around $560 a month, but Dean Saluti and Marjorie Cahn told me they were going to pay it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

They seemed to lose their interest in doing the right thing several months later, when I turned 25 and my premium increased to $690 a month. They told me then that they would pay a maximum of $600, leaving me to cover the remaining $90-something a month myself, while my non-diabetic coworkers enjoyed 100 percent reimbursement for their health benefits.

My doctor's office put me in touch with their contact at the American Diabetic Association, who then got me in touch with a lawyer. As I mentioned in my last post, the lawyer sent Dean Saluti a letter saying that he was in violation of Colorado law, and he needed to reimburse me for what I'd paid for out of my own pocket and resume paying my premiums in full. The letter worked, and two weeks later I had a check in hand for the amount I'd paid out-of-pocket (about two months' worth).

However, my experiences with Saluti Cahn threw into sharp relief the problems that I will face my entire life as a diabetic. To prevent employers and health insurance companies from discriminating against diabetics, two things need to happen:

1. Diabetics need to be explicitly included in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and
2. Our nation needs to offer universal health care.

Both of these things are equally important. With only one or the other, you might find diabetics with a job but no health insurance, or with health insurance but no job. I hope that Congress succeeds in passing the ADA Restoration Act, and that in the fall we succeed in electing a president who will ensure that all Americans get health care coverage.

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