06 May 2010

This Is Why We Need Public Insurance

By Ted McLaughlin
As everyone knows by now, the health care reform recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama did not contain an option for public insurance (insurance provided by the government -- like Medicare). This was a mistake, and leaves Americans at the mercy of private insurance companies, for whom the bottom line on profits is much more important than patient care.

Take for example Wellpoint, Inc. -- which is the largest private insurance provider in the United States. Wellpoint has a female CEO, Angela Braly (pictured), and many other females in high-ranking positions within the corporation. That fact might make someone think they would be vigilant in providing excellent health care for women. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Just ask Robin Beaton in Texas, Patricia Relling in Kentucky or Yenny Hsu in California. These women, like many others across the country, thought they had good private insurance coverage and were careful to make sure that all their premiums were paid on time. They thought they would be taken care of if they got sick and needed to use that insurance -- that is, until they actually got sick.

All three of these women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon after that, they were notified that their private insurance policy had been cancelled by the insurance company. It turns out that Wellpoint had a computer program that singled out women with breast cancer and then searched for a reason, any reason, to drop these women's coverage (although the company was happy to get the women's premium payments before they got sick).

This kind of action by an insurance company is called "rescission". Rescission occurs when an insurance company decides a person's illness might cost them too much money so they just drop the person from their insurance rolls (using erroneous or flimsy excuses to do so).

Now you may be thinking the new health care reform law has outlawed recission, and you would be right. But will that actually stop the practice of rescission? Probably not. Because while the new law forbids the practice of rescission, it has no real enforcement provision to back it up. And a law that has no provision for enforcement is no better than no law at all.

Many seem to think that private insurance companies exist to provide patients with medical care, but that is just not true. At best, that is only a secondary consideration. The primary purpose of a private insurance company is to make a profit -- and the bigger that profit is, the better. That is why we probably have not seen the last of rescission. It is simply too good a tool for the corporation to maximize their profits.

Even if the action causes them to have to pay a few fines, I expect the insurance companies will still find it more profitable to just pay the fines and go on dropping sick people from their insurance rolls. After all, their board and investors don't ask them how many sick people they helped each year -- only how much profit they made.

This is exactly why the profit motive must be taken out of health insurance. When a person gets sick, the only question asked should be how to make them well. How much that illness is going to cut into a company's profit should never be a consideration. And that is why we must have at least an option for government-provided health insurance.

Profit is never a consideration in a public health insurance program. The primary consideration is patient health. And it is insurance that can never be dropped -- for any reason. Since profit is not a consideration, public health insurance would be less expensive than private insurance (and would tend to drive down the cost of private insurance so they could compete).

The new health care law did a few good things, but it did not solve the problems inherent in our health care system's insurance coverage. The only thing that can do that is public health insurance. I hope it's not another 100 years before people realize that.

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