Is Congress deaf? Or does insurers’ money just speak louder?

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While Congress is taking a week off, its members should hear what voters want, not what giant insurance conglomerates want, in health care reform. The latest national poll tells us that a whopping 70-plus percent of Americans want a health reform choice that lets them snub Anthem, United Healthcare and the other companies that miserably abuse their customers.

That strong "public option," something like an expanded Medicare, is key to getting the dysfunctional, wasteful insurance market under control.

In Congress, Republicans are the main force against even a choice of government-funded health care, insisting that it’s somehow socialist or anti-American. But, surprise! Even a majority of Republican voters want that choice.

It’s the clearest example I’ve seen of lobbyists running roughshod over democracy. The insurers, with some help from the drug industry, are acting like the National Rifle Association. It’s not just the campaign money–it’s the implied threat that any politician who strays from their line will face ugly opposition in the next election. That’s one reason the industry’s pals in Congress are parroting the insurance lobby’s own words.

Jus to remind us what we’re fighting for, and how mainstream the idea is, a New York Times editorial published last Sunday laid out the choices in Congress. It’s clear that a stong public insurance option is preferred. And today, the NYT followed up with all the reasons why private insurers can’t be trusted with reform. Unlike the previous editorial, this one dropped the even-handed tone to show real, and justified, anger: 

A House oversight subcommittee took a close look at a particularly
shameful practice known as “rescission,” in which insurance companies
cancel coverage for some sick policyholders rather than pay an
expensive claim. The companies contend that rescissions are rare. But
Congressional investigators found that three big insurers canceled
about 20,000 individual policies over a five-year period — allowing
them to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims.

companies typically argue that the policyholders withheld information
about pre-existing conditions that would have disqualified them from
coverage. But the subcommittee unearthed cases where the pre-existing
conditions were trivial, or unrelated to the claim, or not known to the
patient. When executives for the three companies were asked if they
would be willing to limit rescissions to cases where the policyholder
deliberately lied on an application form, all said they would not. This
tactic will not be ended voluntarily.

Meanwhile, the Senate
Commerce Committee was getting an earful from a former head of
corporate communications for Cigna, a big health insurer. He charged
that the industry deliberately confuses its customers by making it hard
to obtain information about its practices and issuing incomprehensible

He also charged that the companies “dump the sick,”
through rescissions and by purging small businesses whose employees’
claims exceed what underwriters expected. They are often hit with huge
rate increases intended to force them to drop coverage. [Here’s more on the gripping testimony of that executive, Wendell Potter, with a link to the whole thing]

Commerce Committee also released a staff report elaborating on how
insurance companies operating in every region of the country have used
statistically manipulated databases to reduce their payments for
services provided by doctors outside their networks. Patients must then
pay the often considerable difference.

Any legislation to
reform the health care system, and extend coverage to millions of
uninsured Americans, must stop these practices.

So what exactly are the Republicans and self-styled "moderates" of the Senate defending? The argument that a public plan might cut into insurers’ business seems like a reason to make the public insurance competitor as strong and available to all of us as possible.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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