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Worker fights back over hospital bills

HUNTINGTON — For 27 years, Wynona Maynor pressed seams and waistbands of Corbin Ltd. pants. The money from her job helped raise four kids.

Each summer, she helped her husband raise a big garden. She, her kids and her husband built a bathroom and kitchen onto their four-room house. They replaced the roof themselves.

Her life did not center on her job. "I was a mom and grandmom," she said. "We were just living our lives. But then this happened."

In 2001, Corbin's self-funded insurance quit paying employees' medical bills without telling them.

Maynor was local union president. One woman after another called her in tears, asking for help, telling her a hospital or doctor's office had threatened to sue or refused to see them. "They'd signed those papers that say if the company doesn't pay, you will," she said.

She stared making phone calls and sending out letters. Demands on her time quickly snowballed.

"It more or less took over her life, which was good for the rest of us, but I know it was hard on her," said fellow seamstress Willa Bias.

In the past two years, Maynor has spent hundreds — maybe thousands — of dollars she didn't have. She bought a small copier and a fax machine. She sent out hundreds of letters and called dozens of lawyers. She set up meetings with state officials and badgered the governor at a town meeting. She got the state Division of Labor to audit the Corbin debt records. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., writes her letters that begin "Dear Wynona."

Her home was soon awash with papers. She was constantly on the phone or computer. She brought the union file cabinet home. "My whole family was irritated with me for a year, because I pretty much lived, drank and slept this Corbin mess. It got kind of hard for them."

She was not saddled with a big debt. "$2,500. Nothing compared to some other people."

So why did she do all this?

"I just got mad," she said. "I worked with those people for years. We were like family. They didn't do anything wrong, and some of them, their lives have been wrecked.

"I don't want people thinking I'm a martyr or something. I never did anything like this before. It just happened to me. I did it because it's just not right."

"She has been a lifeline," said former Corbin seamstress Sheila Russell. "We all had ideas about what we could do, but she made them happen."

"She's not afraid of anybody," said Judy Newton. "She doesn't quit till she gets an answer."

Maynor says the memory of Barbara Nottingham inspires her. Nottingham worked for Corbin 33 years before she died of an aneurysm in 2003.

"She spent her last year frantic about leaving these debts to her family," Maynor said. "She called me every day, and when I get exhausted, I think of her and get mad again.

"There's that small, still voice inside all of us that just kicks in sometimes," she said. "I think it's your God-given conscience. Somebody had to help, so I did. I listened to the voice this time."

Having listened, she filed a handwritten federal lawsuit to force Corbin to give her the insurance plan's annual report. She got online and educated herself about state and federal laws. After the union told her about the Trade Adjustment Act retraining money, she downloaded the application form, filled it out and sent it in.

"Trying to get help was like running into brick walls everywhere you turned," she said.

She learned to speak in public. "She'll say, 'Now, don't let me cuss,'" said Russell. "She gets so wound up."

She doesn't want to be called the union president. "I'm not doing this because of the union. I'm doing this for these women," she said.

She studies her Bible with her family. "Before we started, I probably wouldn't have jumped into this," she said. "But when it says to help your neighbor, it means help your neighbor."

Her fellow seamstresses credit her for the fact that they got federal Trade Adjustment Act retraining money for workers displaced by foreign competition.

As of this month, 65 former Corbin employees had enrolled in retraining programs. "We've got a whole bunch at Huntington Junior College for medical assistant," Maynor said. "Three in LPN school, physical therapy assistant, heavy equipment operator, office worker, truck driver, radiology, pharmacy technician."

She is still trying to find ways to deflect lawsuits and collection agencies. Last week, Rockefeller introduced a bill to let employees recover more from a company bankruptcy.

Maynor doubts there will be much to divide in the Corbin bankruptcy. Bank One acquired a large part of Corbin's assets just before Corbin declared bankruptcy, she said, pulling out papers to prove it.

She helped the seamstresses file claims in the bankruptcy. She helped find a lawyer who filed a class-action civil suit on their behalf against David Corbin, former company president and Acordia National, which processed claims for the company.

Now she is researching hospital billing. She was startled recently when a hospital cut a seamstress's bill drastically in exchange for a lump-sum payment. "It was their life savings," she said. "But the hospital can't take their home now."

She has learned that hospitals often cut deals and sometimes drop bills, especially when a person becomes eligible for charity care, and especially when they are represented by a lawyer.

She has even found a way to get paid for this kind of work. She used her TAA retraining money to enroll in a two-year program at Marshall to become a paralegal. Her federal expense money will run out before it finished, but she says she'll worry about that later.

"I've developed a passion for justice," she said. "I've learned that laws can be on the books, but it's people who get them enforced."

This is a follow-up to a Sunday Gazette-Mail story about the hazards of self-funded health insurance and the Corbin Ltd. employees who were saddled with $2 million in medical debts the company plan did not pay. That story can be found at http://www.sundaygazettemail.com.

To contact staff writer Kate Long, use e-mail or call 347-1798.


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