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Grieving mom gets heartbreaking notices from Vt. Health Connect - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Grieving mom gets heartbreaking notices from Vt. Health Connect

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

On July 10, 2015, Ange Schmehl gave birth to identical twin boys.

"It was the scariest thing in the world," she said.

Ange was only 26 weeks pregnant when she had an emergency C-section. James and Ronin each weighed less than 2 pounds and suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. One baby was getting more blood than the other.

"The whole situation was terrifying every day," Ange said.

James came out burgundy. Ronin was gray. Doctors worked feverishly to find Ronin's heartbeat before bringing both brothers to the neonatal intensive care unit. For 16 days, little Ronin fought to survive. He lost that battle July 26, 2015.

"At 11:16 he passed away," Ange said. "They said he fought for 45 minutes."

Ange says the grief of losing a baby is overwhelming. She's homebound and sees grief counselors. But what they couldn't prepare her for is a battle with Vermont Health Connect.

"Every time that these letters come, it pushes me deeper," she said.

In the year since Ronin's death, she's received at least four notices from the state reminding her to pick a pediatrician, even threatening to cut off her coverage if she didn't renew insurance for her child who was no longer alive.

"Every time a new one came in the mail my sister was heartbroken," said Katie Ballard, Schmehl's sister. "And I had to watch her go through losing Ronin all over again."

The family complained to Vermont Health Connect, then the Office of Health Care Advocate and even Gov. Peter Shumlin's office, offering to show them Ronin's death certificate.

"Every time they apologized. They said that they don't know how this could happen," Katie said. "These are people working for us in our state. You take them at their word and then you'd get another one."

No matter what the family did, they could not get the notices to stop. The most recent one arrived last week, just a few days before the one-year anniversary of Ronin's death.

"Deeply sorry. This never should have happened," said Lawrence Miller, Vermont's chief of health care reform. "There's a series of explanations for why something went wrong at a couple of different points, but there's no excuse for that."

The governor's point person for health care reform calls the mix-up a bureaucratic error that started with a clerk who accidentally closed the service claim, followed by a series of technical failures.

"This is unacceptable," Katie said. "At what point is there accountability from someone higher up in the state to say we need to fix this? People do not need reminders because of a computer glitch. We need to treat people better and more humanely."

The state says it processes about 800 termination requests a month and has significantly lowered its error rate to about 3 percent. But even with the fixes, the chief of health care reform can't guarantee this grieving mom it won't happen again.

"I've had people look at every system that we know is connected. I always worry," Lawrence Miller said. "What I've learned in this is that certainty is not something one can safely offer."

The family is now focusing on James. The surviving twin is now 18 pounds, off most of his meds, crawling, babbling and progressing developmentally.

"I see a baby who's overcome so much," Katie said. "It was almost like Ronin is helping James fight... It gives us some peace to just see him do so well and know that he's going to have a great future."

The family calls him their miracle baby.

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