WASHINGTON, DC—Citing Dick Cheney's pre-existing health conditions and his refusal to meet regularly with his primary care physician, the White House's health-insurance provider terminated the vice president's coverage Monday.
AmeriHealth, the parent company of the HMO serving the executive branch, issued a "termination of benefits" notice to Cheney Aug. 3. The form letter, addressed to "Member #782B-11107-3905C (Cheney, Richard Bruce)," informed the vice president that his health coverage would cease, "effective immediately."
Speaking to reporters Monday, Cheney expressed dismay over being dropped from the HMO.
"I am a victim of a bureaucracy," Cheney said. "This action on the part of AmeriHealth is exceedingly unfair."
In the form letter, AmeriHealth customer-service manager Bob Kielas apologized for any inconvenience caused by the adjustment, and encouraged the vice president to contact an AmeriHealth customer-service representative to make arrangements for his final payments.
Cheney said he was on hold for "almost half an hour" during a phone call he made to AmeriHealth shortly after receiving the notice. "This is a contemptible way to treat a customer," he said. "It's complete bullshit, to speak frankly."
Cheney said he was "reasonably certain" that his premiums were still being automatically deducted biweekly from his pay.
"I'm supposed to be covered," the vice president said. "This is a nightmare."
Those close to Cheney report that the vice president has long complained about having to see doctors within the HMO network, rather than choosing his own specialist. In 2003, Cheney wrote a letter of complaint when, instead of being admitted to the Bethesda Naval Hospital for treatment of his angina, he was directed to an HMO-approved urgent-care clinic in Clarendon, VA. According to the vice president, he sat in a crowded lobby between a mother with a colicky baby and a drunken Georgetown student with a broken nose for several hours, and both were examined before him.
Last February, Cheney received a bill for $2,000 for a coronary procedure that was only partially covered by his HMO. In a call that was recorded for quality-assurance purposes, Cheney argued for nearly 20 minutes with an associate customer-service representative identified only as "Heather." Cheney grew progressively more belligerent on the phone, until Heather said, "Sir, if you continue to use that type of language, I will have to end this call."
White House sources say that, while Cheney received his letter early this month, he was unaware of the cancellation on Aug. 23, when he visited the hospital following a possible heart attack and was told that he was "not in the computer."
Although the vice president was admitted to the hospital and learned that he had only been suffering acid reflux, he received a bill Monday for $1,500.
"This is a complete and total outrage," Cheney said. "AmeriHealth cannot possibly expect me to pay that kind of money out of pocket."
Cheney said he is unsure what action he will take if his HMO membership is not reinstated.
"I'm still too young for Medicare, and I'll simply run into the same pre-existing-condition clause if I purchase a health-insurance policy on my own," Cheney said. "Sometimes I just feel hopeless. There are very few health-care options available to someone like me."