The health insurance industry took it on the chin today. A new study exposed their denials of up to 40% of doctor-requested care (now that's a real death panel). And California's attorney general may investigate two top insurers' coercion of employees to lobby members Congress against strong health reform. That's good news for the rest of us: It could force Congress to step away from toeing the industry line.
Consumer Watchdog's letter asking California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to probe United HealthCare and Anthem/Wellpoint messages (telling employees to "voluntarily" contact their members of Congress) exposes the corporate roots of many supposedly grassroots protests. And, at least In California, such political coercion is completely illegal. (The smoking-gun documents are attached to the letter).
Both companies specifically told employees they should object to the so-called public option--which just means allowing all or some of us the voluntary choice of buying low-overhead health insurance, a sort of Medicare-lite. It's the absolute least we should get out of national health reform, but the insurance companies act like it's Armageddon, not just a reasonable competitor that could make all insurance more efficient and less costly. Enlisting employees as mini-lobbyists seems like a pretty desperate step.
The California Nurses Association also released its study of insurance company denials of treatment, and found that in California, the average denial rate is 1 in 5 requests. But the champ, Pacificare (owned by United Health Care) was denying 40% of claims. That, of course, is how insurance companies make money: Look for expensive claims and delay/deny until the treatment is no longer useful--or maybe the patient is dead.
No insurance company disputed the study's numbers, and the industry could only summon this response to the LA Times, making it clear that the companies are in the business of writing profitable contracts, not ensuring Americans' health:
"Health plans have strict requirements and meet the letter of their
contracts with their members to make sure they pay all the claims they
are supposed to," said Nicole Kasabian Evans, a spokeswoman for the
California Assn. of Health Plans.
So much for insurance companies' endless P.R. about how they want to partner with government to make American health care better. It's all about the contract, and the profitability of that contract.
Now it's up to Congress to realize that regular working Americans, unlike insurance company employees, aren't being given company time and instruction to battle for stronger health care reform. It's time for lawmakers to dump the questionable contents of their e-mail inboxes, resist the lure of insurers' lobbying and campaign dollars, and do what's right.