Democrats have hammered Republican candidates in this political cycle for supporting policies that would jeopardize people’s health care. But Jim Songer of Hungtingburg, Indiana, says GOP Senate candidate Mike Braun personally took his insurance away.
Like a lot of Republicans running for Congress right now, Braun says he actually does favor health care policies that protect sick people from unfair insurance practices, a message that is contrary to his ― and his party’s ― actual policy record.
But Braun has a trump card: In his business career, he has actually provided insurance to people ― a fact he has relentlessly highlighted in debates and TV ads.
“Just like I’ve taken care of my employees, I’ll take care of Hoosiers,” Braun said during a Tuesday night debate with his opponent, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.
But not all of Braun’s former employees agree with that assessment, like the several who have sued the company for wage theft over the years.
And then there’s Jim Songer. He worked for Braun’s auto parts company until July, when he landed in the hospital with blood loss due to severe anemia.
“While I was in the hospital, Mike Braun fired me and backdated my termination so my insurance had been canceled,” Songer says in a Donnelly TV ad that first aired last month. “I was devastated.”
It’s a devastating ad. Braun’s company, Meyer Distributing, fired Songer in July ― as Braun’s campaign was running ads about what a compassionate boss he’s been.
“There is no such thing as health care when something happens to you and it gets taken away,” Songer says in the ad. “And that’s what Mike Braun’s company did.”
Since the ad aired on Oct. 8, neither Braun’s campaign nor his company has contradicted Songer’s version of events. Neither responded to requests for comment for this article.
In an interview, Songer, 58, said he’d worked for Meyer Distributing for a year, selling auto accessories to dealerships around the country. He said that in July he started feeling dizzy when he would stand up. After missing three days of work in bed, he called his supervisor on July 21, fearing he’d lost his job, but his supervisor said he hadn’t been fired. The next day, he went to a hospital and received blood transfusions to treat his anemia. It took several days to recover.
After he got out of the hospital, the supervisor told him he’d lost his job.
A “Notification of Termination” document dated July 23 indicates Songer had been fired for “job abandonment” ― i.e., not showing up to work and not calling in for the three days he was bedridden. Another document, a letter from a human resources employee with a Meyer Distributing letterhead, says his last day was July 16, because that was the last day he’d come in. “Additionally, his last day of insurance coverage would have also been July 16, 2018,” the letter says.
The backdated termination meant Songer was stuck with a $28,000 hospital bill that his company insurance would have paid if he hadn’t been fired. Songer said he lost his apartment and has no way of paying the hospital.
“It’s been kind of a humiliating experience,” he said. “I’ve always been so healthy my whole life.”
When Songer filed for unemployment insurance, Meyer Distributing fought the claim, saying he’d been fired for cause, according to documents Songer shared with HuffPost. But an administrative law judge ruled in Songer’s favor, citing a state law that says people fired for missing work due to illness shouldn’t be disqualified. “The claimant was involuntarily unemployed as the result of a medically substantiated physical disability after making reasonable efforts to maintain the employment relationship,” the administrative law judge wrote.
Though the Braun campaign hasn’t defended itself from Songer’s accusation, it has fought back against other attacks on Meyer Distributing’s health plans. The Donnelly campaign has highlighted Meyer’s $5,000 deductible for individuals, which means that if an employee actually utilizes medical services during the year, the policy doesn’t cover costs until the worker has spent $5,000 of his or her own money.
The average deductible for an employer-sponsored health plan is $1,573, according to the most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. So Braun’s company’s health plan is far stingier than most. But Braun has maintained that since most people don’t exceed their deductible anyway, he should get credit for having low monthly premiums.
“The premium cost is the only thing that’s for certain,” he said at Tuesday’s debate. “My premium cost is 70 bucks a month.”