Several health insurance companies have announced that they are ending insurance coverage for children because the new law won’t let them turn away the sick ones anymore. That's right – WellPoint, CoventryOne and others are refusing to issue new child-only policies because the companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to children with “pre-existing conditions.” They blame their actions on the new health care law, not their own greed. Even for the insurance industry this behavior is surprisingly brazen. They don’t like the rules, so they’re going to take their ball and go home.
The insurance companies announced their plans to turn away sick kids only days before Sept. 23, when important parts of the health insurance law take effect. These include consumer protections that end the worst of insurance company abuses. The law puts an end to odious practices like dropping people because they got sick, putting annual and lifetime limits on how much coverage you can get from the insurance policy you rightly thought covered everything, and denying children coverage because they're sick.
Once the law is fully implemented, insurance companies will not be able to deny any of us coverage because we have an illness, or drop us when we do, or force us into bankruptcy because of caps on how much of our health care they'll pay for (you can read a summary here). That's why this law really is a BFD, and that’s why this latest move by the insurance companies is so over the top.
In explaining its action, and blaming the new law (which apparently they just got around to reading), Anthem cited “uncertainty as to how the rules will be implemented and what the impacts might be on participating insurers.” They also whined about “an unlevel competitive environment.” Seriously?
CoventryOne said its inability to discriminate against sick children "poses undue risks that could undermine our ability to offer value and meet our continued obligations to existing policyholders." It's not clear what those obligations are since it appears that as soon as Coventry has any obligations toward you they may drop you as a policyholder – or drop your entire line of coverage.
It’s noteworthy that the insurance companies are doing exactly what they said they would not do when Karen Ignagni, President and Chief Executive Officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on March 29, 2010. In that letter Ignagni said that “Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition.” Amazingly, Ignagni went on to take credit for this provision of the law: “That is why health plans in 2008 proposed reforms to make pre-existing condition exclusions a thing of the past.” I hate to pile on, but the letter continued: “With respect to the provisions related to coverage for children, we await and will fully comply with the regulations described in your letter.” That is impressive. To say Ignagni was being casual with the truth is an understatement, but that’s what we’ve come to expect. Just months ago, WellPoint and Aetna were found to have submitted phony numbers to California insurance regulators to keep them from interfering with their rate hikes. This is why so many of us don’t trust the insurance industry—telling the truth just doesn’t come naturally to the insurance companies.
The insurance companies have a new cheerleader in Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate and pre-existing condition himself. At the Values Voters Summit on Friday, where Huckabee spoke along with the latest newcomer to the whack-job express, Christine O'Donnell, Huckabee denounced providing health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions (Forbes’ Nick Ungar blasts Huckabee here). Here's what Huckabee actually said:
“It sounds so good, and it’s such a warm message to say we’re not gonna deny anyone from a pre-existing condition. Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [to] our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, ‘I’d like to buy some insurance for my house.’ He’d say, ‘Tell me about your house.’ ‘Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I’d like to insure it today.’ And he’ll say ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t insure it after it’s already burned.’ Well, no pre-existing conditions.”
I had almost forgotten about Mike Huckabee. Along with O'Donnell, Huckabee now joins the pantheon of other serious Republican whack jobs like Sharron Angle, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. It's a high bar and he cleared it easily.
The insurance industry hardly needs more cheerleaders. They already have the Republican leaders in Congress who want to give our health care back to the insurance companies so they can deny our care, jack up our rates and run roughshod over America's families and businesses. Their partisan rhetoric for repeal is as callous as it is unworkable.
The latest announcement by the insurance companies that they won't cover kids is immoral, and to blame their appalling behavior on the new law is patently dishonest. Instead, they should reverse their actions immediately and follow the spirit of the law, instead of exploiting loopholes.
This offensive behavior by the insurance companies is yet another reminder of why the new law is so important and why the Republican call for repeal is so misguided. For too many years, it's been the insurance companies against us, and they win. With the new consumer protections, we can start winning for a change – and get the health care we pay for and need.
If the insurance companies are so willing to turn their backs on sick children now, who will they abandon next?