JODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer I Posted: Tuesday, October 11,2011
A Bozeman nurse is suing Billings Clinic and its health insurer, claiming she was wrongfully fired and denied health insurance coverage because she was pregnant as a surrogate mother for her patient. Anicee Acosta-Yearick filed one lawsuit each against the Billings Clinic and the insurer, New West Health Services.
According to the lawsuits:
Acosta-Yearick was fired on grounds she violated Billings Clinic’s code of conduct and a nursing code of ethics when she agreed to carry an infertile patient’s baby. She is also suing to recover more than $11,500 in medical claims for the pregnancy New West initially paid but later revoked.
In November 2009, Acosta-Yearick became pregnant for a patient at Bozeman OB/GYN where she worked. The baby was born at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in July 2010. When she was fired in January, Billings Clinic “informed Mrs. Yearick that she was under investigation for insurance fraud” and “interrogated” her about her pregnancy. The clinic filed a complaint against her with the Montana Nursing Board for ethics violations. The clinic fired her because she “used her knowledge of private, protected health information to influence and solicit a Billings Clinic Bozeman OBGYN patient to enter into a surrogacy contract resulting in personal gain.”
But Acosta-Yearick claims she is friendly with the couple who asked for her help. She did not ask for financial compensation other than expenses. She carried the woman’s baby as a gift. “If anyone pushed anyone into signing a legal surrogacy contract, it was I,” the baby’s mother wrote in a statement in the lawsuit. “Yes, Anicee, as my close friend, offered to be my gestational surrogate, but it was I who made the first contact to Anicee.”
Acosta-Yearick claims medical providers at Bozeman OBGYN supported her decision and never questioned her motives when she received pregnancy care.
Dr. Tyler Bradford wrote, “I feel it is wrong for her to be reported to the board of nursing and it would be even more unjust if her license is suspended or revoked as doing so would punish an individual for exhibiting the characteristics that we should all strive for in medicine: selflessness.”
Todd Shea, Acosta-Yearick’s attorney, said another nurse at a Billings Clinic donated her kidney to a patient. He wrote in the brief that she “was praised for her selfless and courageous act.”
Acosta-Yearick claims her termination violated her health care privacy rights, defamed her through slanderous and libelous contentions, was intended to interfere with her economic interests and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.
The lawsuit against New West claims the insurer initially paid Acosta-Yearick’s medical bills but later reneged after a Billings Clinic employee asked the insurer about the legitimacy of the payments. The insurer had no exclusions for “surrogate services” and only added that amendment to the plan after Acosta-Yearick had asked about her benefits and became pregnant with the understanding her medical bills would be covered.
Montana’s state auditor reviewed Acosta-Yearick’s appeal to New West after her benefits were revoked and ruled in her favor, saying “the underlying condition that New West is denying coverage for is pregnancy and child birth. This is a condition exclusive to women.”