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Monday, February 10, 2014

Mother Of AOL ‘Distressed Baby’ Speaks Up

Deanna Fei's daughter is now one year old. (Courtesy of Deanna Fei)

Deanna Fei’s daughter is now one year old. (Courtesy of Deanna Fei)

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is reversing himself. In a letter to employees this weekend, he apologized for blaming a change in the company’s retirement plan on the high costs of two employees’ “distressed babies.” He also said he was changing the retirement plan back to the way it was.

The mother of one of the “distressed babies” is speaking out. Deanna Fei, whose husband works for AOL, wrote in Slate, “Armstrong exposed the most searing experience of our lives for an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.”

Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks to Fei, as well as to journalist Olga Khazan of The Atlantic, who writes, “it’s hard to imagine how company structured like AOL could ever pay $2 million for two pregnancies gone wrong.”

Interview Highlights

Deanna Fei on AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s comments

“I don’t doubt that her care was extremely expensive. What I do take issue with is this singling out of any individual for using their health plan in the situation like the one we faced, which was a catastrophe… It was not a high-risk pregnancy. There was not a single risk factor I had, there was not a single warning. And you know, I think that was his attempt to explain that he was actually talking about the fact that he does care about his employees’ welfare, but for me hearing that added insult to injury because it wasn’t true, but also because there’s the suggestion as if we kind of took on something risky and the company was generous enough and charitable enough to cover us when it went wrong.”

“It would be unthinkable to call out an employee who got breast cancer, you know, parents of a kid with chronic asthma. We just would never single these people out as someone doing anything except exercising their rights as employees. And I also want to point out, it’s a valid and probably necessary conversation on a national policy level to talk about healthcare expenditures. I don’t know the answers, but I know in this context, we’re talking about a publicly-traded company that had just posted its best quarterly earnings in years, that could afford to pay its CEO $12 million last year, a company where all of the employees have health insurance and there’s no reason to make it a zero sum game.”

Olga Khazan on Armstrong’s $1 million cost estimate for each “distressed baby”

“That’s a little bit puzzling because most premature babies cost about $50,000 more than most newborns do, and employers pick up about half of that cost… So even with two of those it would be far less than $1 million. We don’t know how much the other newborn, what kind of situation they were in, but it still seems like a bit of a stretch.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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