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Beach family battles a disease – and an insurance cap

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By Elizabeth Simpson

The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH

Last year, a $1 million lifetime cap on health care expenses meant nothing more than fine print on an insurance policy to Jim Bucher.

"I never thought I'd hit that," Bucher said. "Who's going to spend a million dollars?"

That was before his 6-year-old son, Landon, was diagnosed with leukemia last July.

What followed were hospital stays that lasted weeks at a time, expensive chemotherapy drugs and a bone marrow transplant at Duke University Hospital.

Landon has now accrued about $700,000 in medical expenses, and there are still some hefty outstanding bills.

For Jim Bucher and his wife, Patty, health care reform can't get here fast enough. The act signed by President Barack Obama in March eliminates lifetime caps from health insurance policies.

That part of the law goes into effect Sept. 23, one of the earlier pieces to fall in place. But because the Buchers have an existing policy, the cap will stay until their policy is renewed on Jan. 1.

In the meantime, Bucher, 40, bird-dogs his medical bills, organizes fund raisers and spends hours on the phone with insurers and benefit specialists.

"It's turned my life upside-down," said Bucher, a mortgage loan officer.

It's also given the Virginia Beach resident a new perspective on health care reform. Before, he didn't really think government should get involved. "The way it was presented, it seemed like a negative thing. I figured, 'I have insurance, so I don't need to worry about it.' "

Now he's finding out just how critical the new law will be to his family.

For one thing, the label of "pre-existing condition" that his son now carries cannot be used to deny him insurance coverage or charge him prohibitive rates. That provision starts Sept. 23 for children and in 2014 for adults.

The elimination of lifetime limits will also help Landon, eventually, along with annual limits, which will be prohibited starting in 2014.

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