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Could High Medical Bills Trigger Firing?

As her husband fought prostate cancer, Phillis Dewitt, 47, never imagined her own court fight was brewing.

But once it was clear that Dewitt’s husband, Tony, was not going to get better, her supervisor at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Ill., where she worked as a nurse manager, began asking questions about his treatments. Tony’s medical claims ran as high as $177,826 in 2004. 

Under a self-funded medical plan, the hospital paid claims of up to $250,000 a year for each employee; above that amount, any expenses were paid by the hospital’s insurance policy.

In 2005, staff was informed that the hospital needed to cut costs, and within months Dewitt was fired. No reason was given. Now she’s suing. 

“For me it’s about principle,” says Dewitt, whose husband died in 2006. “I don’t think you should be able to terminate someone with a perfect employment record because their spouse is disabled.”

Hospital representatives declined to discuss Dewitt’s termination, citing privacy concerns, but did say it had nothing to do with health care costs.

The case is set to go to a jury trial in August.

Michelle Diament is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn.

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