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Published: April 30, 2015 06:00 AM

Hit with almost $100K in surprise medical debt, she fought back

Claudia Knafo

Claudia Knafo interviewed several physicians before her spinal surgery in 2012, finally finding one she trusted and who took her health insurance. Her recovery was smooth, but sorting through her claims afterward was confounding: The hospital website said that her doctor accepted her plan, but he had dropped the carrier in 1997. That meant her out-of-network coverage for the $101,000 surgery was a paltry $3,510—and she was on the hook for the rest.

Fearful that her family would have to file for bankruptcy, Knafo, a concert pianist based in New York City, spent the next seven months searching for a fix. “It consumed every hour of my day,” she recalls.

The insurance company eventually dropped the charges, but Knafo continued to have a sense of outrage. “I’m an educated person, able to write a letter and hire a lawyer,” she says. “What happens to people without those resources?”

She shared her story last year at a press conference sponsored by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, as part of our ongoing efforts to stop “surprise” medical debt. “Claudia has a deep sense of moral outrage about the unfairness of what happened,” says Chuck Bell, Consumers Union's programs director. “She wanted to fight for a law to protect others.”

In April, a law went into effect in New York state that gives unprecedented protection to patients, shielding them from such errors. Knafo hopes it’s a model for other states: “I’ve learned you really can use your voice to institute change.”

For more information, check our health insurance guide.

Actions you can take in June

Photo: Paul Sahre

Ask Congress for safer detergent pods

Each year poison control centers receive thousands of calls about children mistaking laundry detergent pods for candy, with serious health consequences. Some manufacturers are working to make the containers childproof. The Detergent Poisoning and Child Safety Act, now before Congress, would create safety standards for the packaging, design, and labeling of the pods. You can contact your rep in Congress about supporting that important bill at

Hang up on criminals

Robocalls aren’t just annoying recorded messages; they’re often tied to scams costing Americans about $350 million each year. Consumer Reports is urging phone companies to give consumers call-blocking options. Sign our petition at

The win: Cleaner credit reporting

The big three credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) have agreed to reforms that we’ve long advocated, including fixing errors faster and waiting 180 days before including medical debts, to allow for insurance payments. We also think that reliable credit scores should be a required part of free annual credit reports.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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