‘As I was being eaten, I was thinking about my insurance’: Woman who lost her face in bear attack on why she’s voting for Bernie Sanders

Exclusive: Allena Hansen of California still deals with hefty medical bills nearly 12 years after getting mauled

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Monday 02 March 2020 18:34
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A woman still experiencing the aftermath of her injuries nearly 12 years after she was mauled by a bear has put her support behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, largely because of his position on health insurance in the US.

Allena Hansen, now 68, was on her secluded ranch in the southern part of California's Sequoia Mountains in 2008 when she was mauled by a black bear.

The attack, which left her with extensive facial injuries and pain, was not the hardest moment for Ms Hansen. Instead, she said dealing with her private insurance company, Blue Cross, to cover medical bills was the most debilitating. Blue Cross did not respond to a request for a comment.

"Literally, as I was being eaten by a wild beast, I wasn't thinking about Jesus or my family or my son. I was thinking my insurance was not going to pay for this," she told The Independent. "I had to make this calculus as I was being eaten, 'Do I want to survive this?' Not, 'Can I survive this?' Not, 'What am I going to look like?'"

She added: "I think that speaks volumes to the American healthcare system."

Ms Hansen, who comes from a family of doctors, said health insurance, and what she dealt with in the aftermath of her bear attack, is a substantial reason why she's put her support behind Sanders for the 2020 election.

"I would like to see a standardised single-payer system and I am, have been for a long time, supporting Bernie Sanders because of that," she said. "People don't realise that there's a public benefit to providing reasonable healthcare."

Sanders' Medicare for All plan would eliminate private health insurance and instead create a public health system for all Americans to use and pay into.

The plan would reportedly eliminate premiums, deductibles, copays, and "surprise bills". Then, to expand on the current Medicare system, Sanders plan would also include dental, vision, and hearing coverage.

The candidate's Medicare for All plan and how Americans will pay for it remained largely unclear until Sanders released an outline of funding last week. He estimated on 60 Minutes his plan will cost $30tn over the next 10 years, but his funding outline sets aside just $17.5tn for the insurance. The funding outline was later updated to include "current federal, state and local government spending over the next 10 years" would cover the rest.

If the plan passed, it would eliminate insurance companies sitting in between Americans and them receiving healthcare for different ailments, an idea supported by Ms Hansen.

"Americans don't want good healthcare insurance, they want good healthcare," she said. "There is no reason whatsoever for the insurance industry to be in our public health system, zero."

Many of Ms Hansen's injuries from the bear attack involved facial reconstruction and ophthalmological work, a majority of which went uncovered by her private insurance plan.

"My face was ripped off. You couldn't even tell that I was a human being," she said. "I had very extensive facial injuries and head injuries."

The woman lost 14 teeth when the bear attacked, and the animal destroyed a large part of her face that included her nose, eye sockets, and upper jaw.

Allena Hansen, now 68, was attacked by a black bear on her California ranch. Nearly 12 years later, she says dealing with health insurance costs was the worst part of the attack (Dr Kimberly Lee, Allena Hansen)

Ms Hansen remained in the hospital for only one day, but the larger battle occurred once she returned to her 70-acre ranch and had to implore her insurance company to pay for her treatments.

"They make their money by denying services, not providing it," she said. "Their reasoning was 'this is not reasonable or customary treatment.' No, I was mauled by a bear. It tore my face off. That is neither reasonable nor customary."

Nearly 12 years later, Ms Hansen is still paying hefty insurance costs, and she estimates she's paid upwards of $250,000 for her bills. Her health insurance denied covering most of the costs for her ophthalmological care, rebuilding her upper jaw, and other treatments.

"It went through all of my retirement savings, my IRAs, my assets. I am now living on a social security pension. Period," she said. Some of Ms Hansen's treatments were paid for by doctors who volunteered their time to her cause.

She's currently on Medicaid and has to pay an estimated $300-400 per month out of pocket for her ophthalmological care, such as eye drops and special contact lenses.

But Ms Hansen has halted fixing other areas of her health, like lip implants to improve her ability to eat and teeth that are more functional than her current pair, because of how each would cost her.

"I've long since ceased trying to get anything fixed," she said.

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