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Cash On Delivery

Ozzie Chavez remembers the birth of her first four children as a wonder and a joy . So she wasn't prepared for the nightmare she endured delivering her youngest, Amy, last July, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

"I thought I was gonna die," she says. "I didn't know you could have that much pain."

Northridge Hospital anesthesiologist, Dr. Lori Berke refused to give her a pain-blocking epidural. The reason was that MediCal, state insurance for the poor, reimburses very little.

Dr. Berke demanded $400 cash before she would administer the anesthesia. She would not accept a check or credit, so Chavez was left to writhe in pain.

"She wouldn't even come into the room so I couldn't plead with her or anything," says Chavez. "She would not come in unless we had cash."

Chavez is suing the doctor and the hospital for malpractice and negligence -- charging the "cruel treatment" made her feel "like a second-class citizen, unworthy of their medical care."

Dr. Berke's office issued a statement saying that what she did was "legally and ethically appropriate," and "did not place Ms. Chavez or her baby in any jeopardy."

Anesthesiologists across the country are appalled.

"The last thing we should ever do is tell a patient, no, you can't have analgesia for labor because you can't afford it," says Dr. David Birnbach, President of the Society of Obstetric Anesthesiology. "That's criminal."

Back in Northridge, doctors say they have changed their anesthesia policy -- but it s too late for Ozzie Chavez. She is expecting her sixth child this fall and she is taking her business elsewhere.

Reported by Bill Whitaker
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