For decades he served and protected and was grateful for the county benefits that came with his job, but now a former sheriff’s deputy finds himself in a health care crisis.
“It’s been a tough road. I can’t do much of anything, walk around here like an old man hunched over,” Mark Conforti said.
For nearly 30 years, he worked as a Kenosha County sheriff’s deputy, despite a lingering back injury he got on the job.
“I just responded for a call for service,” he said. “I wore a gun belt that weighs about 20 pounds and a ballistic vest, and when I turned to get out of the car, my back seized up, and I felt a pop in my lower back, and turned out that I ruptured two discs in my lower back.”
That was 2003. Workers’ compensation covered the steroid injections that managed his pain until last fall, when doctors diagnosed him with multiple myeloma — a blood cancer.
“Workers comp found out I have cancer, and they say they believe the cancer is causing my lower back pain that I’ve had since 2003 and denied my claim,” he said.
Conforti thought he was well-insured. In addition to workers’ comp, he also has health insurance through Humana. But Humana won’t pay either.
“And now Humana, they’re on the other side of the book. They say this is a work-related injury and we’re not going to pay for this,” he said. “I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they say.”
Conforti said if he wants his back treatment, he’ll have to pay for it himself. But he can’t work because of his cancer.
Neither Kenosha County nor the Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Co. responded to WISN 12 News’ calls.
“It happens all the time,” attorney Tom Domer said.
Domer wrote the textbook on Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation law and said conflicts over coverage are common.
“There’s a huge amount of cost-shifting done in workers compensation,” Domer said.
Domer said a lawyer can get a worker in front of an administrative law judge who reviews doctors’ reports to determine if an injury really is work-related.
“It’s a battle of doctors, the credibility of doctors,” Domer said.
And he said persistence is critical.
“Many get tired and frustrated and never get the treatment that they need,” Domer said.
Conforti knows that frustration.
“I worked almost 30 years for the county and you just get cast aside,” Conforti said.
He said he’s been living with back pain because his treatment isn’t covered, making cancer treatment even more challenging.