As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Annals Of The Insurance Industry

Just a few tidbits about the industry that Republicans and many conservative Democrats say we must keep in business at all costs:

• A member of a non-profit in Virginia was arrested at the headquarters of Anthem for trying to question them about a rate increase. This is the same Anthem who sent a letter to their customers telling them to contact members of Congress and tell them to oppose a public option. When the same customers try to contact Anthem, they are met with arrest.

• Crystal Lee Sutton, the union organizer who inspired the movie "Norma Rae," died from cancer this week, after a protracted battle with the disease - and her health insurer.

As Daily Kos blogger hissyspit points out, last year Sutton gave an interview to the press where she described a struggle with her health insurer over treatment. The Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina, wrote in 2008:

[Sutton] went two months without possible life-saving medications because her insurance wouldn’t cover it, another example of abusing the working poor, she said.

“How in the world can it take so long to find out (whether they would cover the medicine or not) when it could be a matter of life or death,” she said. “It is almost like, in a way, committing murder.”

She eventually received the medication, but the cancer is taking a toll on her strong will and solid frame.

• In eight states and the District of Columbia, insurance companies define domestic violence as a pre-existing condition. The theory goes that a victim of abuse is more likely to be abused again, and would require medical treatment for those beatings.

Words cannot describe the sheer inhumanity of this claim. It serves as yet further proof that our insurance system is broken, destroyed by the profit-mongering of the very companies whose sole purpose should be to provide Americans with access to care when they need it most. In 1994, an informal survey conducted by the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that 8 of the 16 largest insurers in the country used domestic violence as a factor when deciding whether to extend coverage and how much to charge if coverage was extended.

• The same insurance interests who deny coverage to victims of domestic violence, who deny claims for cancer patients, who arrest those who dare to question them, have spent $585 million dollars in the past 2 1/2 years, and $700,000 a day, lobbying Congress to ensure that any reform bill protects their profits. They have scored with at least one committee, Max Baucus' Senate Finance Committee, which produced a bill that CIGNA whistleblower Wendell Potter calls an absolute gift to the insurance industry.

Potter argued that the lax employer requirements would shift the cost and risk of coverage onto the individual and maintained that the bill’s “network of cooperatives” would be unable to compete in today’s concentrated health insurance markets. “The co-ops won’t stand a chance,” he concluded.

Reform must also do more to regulate insurers, who have agreed to accept applicants with pre-existing conditions but are insisting on benefit and rate flexibility. Potter argued that the benefit package standards in the Exchange and the high deductible option for younger beneficiaries would allow insurers to design almost anything that they can sell in the health market place and push the country towards consumer driven health care.

Under the Baucus legislation, private insurers could also charge older individuals up to five times more for coverage. “You’re just using age as a proxy for health status,” Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University told the New York Times. Reinhardt estimates that “Senator Baucus’s age-rating plan would allow insurers to cover roughly 70 percent of the additional risk they’d take on by being required to accept all comers, regardless of health.”

Some, like Nancy Pelosi, have vowed not to pass the "Insurance Industry Profit Protection And Enhancement Act," as she called it. But they are under tremendous pressure from powerful interests to enact just such a giveaway. Reform groups like Health Care for America Now understand that attacking this industry, and devaluing their influence, is a means to getting a bill that truly helps all Americans obtain quality and affordable health care.

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