Union, health care and community activists from around the nation are set to converge on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., this week to tell Congress there is no time to waste in passing health care reform legislation that provides quality health care for all.
As a congressional hearing revealed last week, health care reform must also rein in the most outrageous and abusive practices of the private insurance industry.
The June 25 rally and lobby day sponsored by Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) is expected to be the largest ever health care rally. Click here for more rally information from HCAN and text “HEALTH” to 94553 to receive updates on fast-moving health care reform activities throughout the summer.
The rally will provide a real grassroots voice to counter the multi-million dollar campaign against real reform the private insurance industry, pharmaceutical giants and conservatives groups are waging against President Obama’s health care reform initiatives. Their special target is a public health insurance plan option for workers and families who either have private insurance coverage or no coverage at all.
More than three-quarters of those polled in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll say it’s important for the American public to have a choice between a public plan option and a private one.
A public option would give working families a choice. If they are satisfied with the insurance they have now, keep it. But if not, they would have an option of choosing a public plan. That type of competition is vital to lowering costs and keeping insurance companies honest.
Keeping private insurance companies honest isn’t an easy task, as the CEOs of three of the biggest health insurers showed at congressional hearing last week. But the trio also provided some of the most compelling evidence yet why a public insurance plan option with a guarantee of coverage is desperately needed.
At a House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee hearing, the three vigorously defended canceling medical coverage for sick-and paid-up-policy holders, especially those facing tens of thousands of dollars in potential treatment costs.
The practice is called “rescission” and an investigation by the subcommittee, writes Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Girion, found
health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.
It also 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.
The insurance industry claims it only rescinds policies when it finds fraud on the part of the policy holder. But the investigation found, and witnesses testified, that policies were canceled for inadvertent omissions or honest mistakes about medical history on their applications.
Robin Beaton, a retired nurse from Texas, who for years faithfully paid her Blue Cross premiums, was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Three days before a scheduled double mastectomy, the insurance company told her they were launching an investigation into her policy and then canceled it for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne. She told the lawmakers:
The sad thing is, Blue Cross gladly took my high premiums, and the first time I filed a claim and was suspected of having cancer, they searched high and low for a reason to cancel me.
She eventually received her operation, but only after her member of Congress intervened with the company.
Witnesses told the committee that rescissions were about boosting corporate profits rather than fighting fraud.. Said Jennifer Horton from Los Angeles, whose policy was canceled because she had been taking a drug for irregular menstruation:
It’s about the money…. insurers ignore the law, and when they find a discrepancy or omission, they rescind the policy and refuse to pay any of your medical bills-even for routine treatment or treatment they previously authorized.
Since my rescission, I have had to take jobs that I do not want, and put my career goals on hold to ensure that I can find health insurance.
Lawmakers asked the three executives-Richard A. Collins, chief executive of UnitedHealth’s Golden Rule Insurance Co.; Don Hamm, chief executive of Assurant Health and Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc.-if they would promise to halt rescissions except in the cases on intentional fraud.
All three said: “No.” That refusal, said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.),
is precisely why we need a public option.
Jerry Flanagan, a patient advocate with Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, told the Times’ Girion:
When insurance companies go under oath and admit they are canceling innocent patients when they get sick, it makes it very difficult for lawmakers to pass a law that requires every American to buy a policy or face a tax fine. It opens the way for a public option to hold the companies in check.