"Liking" your health insurance policy is roughly the same as liking Bernie Madoff until you tried to withdraw your retirement savings. That’s what’s wrong with the polls that corporate opponents and Fox News are using to generate powerful fear and anger over health insurance reform. Any kind of insurance is fine until you have to make a major claim.
Ask the parents of a teen-ager who died fighting Cigna’s denials of a a liver transplant her doctors said she had to have. (As my colleague Jamie Court said of that case: "Insurers will deny anything as ‘experimental’ if it has a six-figure price tag.") Or even a man I know whose sight was nearly destroyed by retinal detachment when his HMO wouldn’t give him an expedited appointment with an opthalmologist, despite his appeals and pleas.
This stuff happens all the time. But it doesn’t happen until you get sick.
That’s the gist of a dispassionate Washington Post story today that calls opinion polls on health care "deeply misleading."
If we fail to reform our health care system this year, a major reason
will be that a majority of Americans are satisfied with their health
coverage and believe that reform could hurt them. According to a recent
(unscientific) Consumer Reports Survey, 64 percent of readers are satisfied with their plans — down from 67 percent in 2007, but still a clear majority. A recent New York Times poll found that 59 percent of Americans do not think that health-care reform
will benefit them personally; 69 percent are concerned that reform
could harm the quality of their own care and 68 percent are concerned
that it could limit their access to treatment.
This is deeply misleading, for two reasons. First, what does it mean to
say that you are satisfied with your health insurance? Consider
homeowner’s insurance. Until you need it — your house burns down —
you have no way of judging its quality. The same goes for health
coverage; until you have a serious illness, the kind where your plan’s
limits and exclusions may kick in, how do you know if your health
coverage is any good?
For one thing, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee uncovered,
some insurers go out of their way to revoke coverage for people with
serious health problems. … For another, you could be underinsured, like 29 percent of all people with health insurance, according to Consumer Reports.
It is politically relevant that two-thirds of Americans seem to like
their health coverage, but whether they should like it is another
The story goes on to mention how tenuous employer-based coverage can be, both in terms of losing it in a layoff, and losing benefits/paying more as employer costs keep spiking. And for anyone with even a modest illness, individual policies range from unaffordable to ungettable.
There are sound business reasons for insurance companies to jack up premiums, reduce coverage, deny care, limit lifetime benefits and turn away the ill. They just have nothing to do with curing you or keeping you alive. That’s the steady message of former Cigna executive Wendell Potter, who’s become the closest thing to a health reform celebrity just by describing how private health insurance really works.
Insurance companies do what they do, from delaying your cardiac test to spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and supporting fake "grassroots" protesters, to keep their revenue and profits high. Expecting them to change voluntarily is like expecting the lion to pass up the easy snack of a baby antelope outside the herd.
What should change is the pollsters, at least those claiming to be legitimate. No one can know if their insurance should be "liked" until they really use it. It’s a false question otherwise.