Thursday, June 25, 2009


The insurance industry says it really cares about us. It says it has our best interests at heart. And sometimes it really does treat us well. Much of the time we think things are OK between us. But sometimes the insurance industry scares us:

As Washington considers overhauling the nation's health care system, a new poll finds considerable concern about health costs, with nearly half of all Americans worried about paying for future care.

Nearly one in four people expressed fear of losing coverage in the next year. About the same number reported that they or a family member delayed seeing a doctor in the past year because of what it might cost.

The survey, released Wednesday, was conducted by the University of Michigan to measure consumer confidence in the health care system. The study was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation....

And we have reason to be afraid:

Families USA, a group that advocates for health care reform, found that costs are rising at a rate five times faster than wages in America in a report issued in October 2008.

And the Kaiser Family Foundation found that family health care costs increased by 78 percent between 2001 and 2008.

And when we ask the insurance industry for help, sometimes it lashes out at us:

Frustrated Americans have long complained that their insurance companies valued the all-mighty buck over their health care. Today, a retired insurance executive confirmed their suspicions, arguing that the industry that once employed him regularly rips off its policyholders.

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

... "They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."...

And if we complain about the abuse, the industry insults us and says we asked for it:

Executives of three of the nation's largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive....

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations ... found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses....

Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc., parent of Blue Cross of California ... said rescissions are necessary to prevent people who lie about preexisting conditions from obtaining coverage and driving up costs for others....

But if we so much as hint that we might walk out -- if we mention turning to someone else, like the government -- the insurance industry won't hear of it. And it'll make sure that our supposed friends take its side:

Senators Worry That Health Overhaul Could Erode Employer Insurance Plans

Senators struggled Wednesday with the possibility that in offering subsidized health insurance to millions of individuals and families, they could inadvertently speed the erosion of employer-provided coverage, which they want to preserve.

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is leading efforts to write health legislation, said "much of the discussion" focused on this issue at meetings of senators on Wednesday....

After a while, we learn to settle for the status quo, and even we start caring more about the industry's well-being than our own:

In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept [of a public option], but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

So to all appearances we seem content. But maybe it's just that we fear what happens if we leave the relationship.

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