Health Care: The People vs. the Insurance Companies

So, now, facing the serious question of health care reform, we’re back to the silliness of the campaign trail. We have Sarah Palin claiming, on her Facebook page, that President Obama is going to set up “death panels,” a claim that merited a “pants on fire” rating on’s Truth-O-Meter:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

We have people organized by ultra-conservative groups shouting down congress members at Town Hall meetings echoing that inane claim and others, including everyone’s going to be forced to government care, but, oh, don’t mess with their Medicare (which they don’t seem to have figured out is a government plan). Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands go without insurance and many of the rest of us are in danger of losing ours.

Cupcake Royale’s blog, Legalize Frostitution, gives a humorous take on the top five health care lies, while really pushing for reform on NBC and NPR. provides more facts on those same top five lies, and the White House has started a Reality Check page to refute them.

Meanwhile. . . I’m thinking of the lyrics of a Steve Earle song – Amerika v.6.0 (The Best We Can Do):

Meanwhile, back at the hospital
We got accountants playin’ God and countin’ out the pills
Yeah, I know, that sucks – that your HMO
Ain’t doin’ what you thought it would do
But everybody’s gotta die sometime and we can’t save everybody
It’s the best that we can do

We can do better though.  We had thousands marching and (hopefully still)contacting their legislators on the need for comprehensive health care reform. This is the real populist movement. 

As Katha Pollitt asks in The Nation:

Whatever happened to, um, health? Wasn’t that a big part of the original case for reform? The 46 million uninsured, the 20,000 people who die every year for lack of medical care, the studies showing that people without insurance get worse care than those with it, even after car crashes? Where are all those people with infuriating stories of being denied essential care by insurance company bureaucrats, and those who thought they were covered when they weren’t, and those who were hit with huge bills because of fine print in their contracts?

According to Washington CAN, “600,000 Washington residents are uninsured. More than 70 percent are members of working families. . . Employer-based coverage is eroding. In 2004, 38 percent of companies in Washington State did not offer health insurance. . . Small businesses and self-employed individuals are especially vulnerable.  Premium costs have increased more rapidly for small businesses than for large ones, but the  quality of coverage they receive is lower.  One third of the uninsured are self-employed.”

I’m sure former Governor Palin has good health coverage for herself and the rest of her family, including Trig. None of which will change with health care reform. Meanwhile, insurance companies are deciding the fate of others.

From Katha Pollitt’s column:

Listening to the radio earlier this summer, I heard a 59-year-old nurse named Robin Batin testify in the most heart-rending way before the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations, chaired by Representative Bart Stupak. When she developed invasive breast cancer, her insurance company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, rescinded her coverage because of a pre-existing condition–dermatitis–even though her dermatologist called to say it was acne, not, as the company claimed, a precancerous condition. Stupak confronted the heads of Assurant Health, UnitedHealth and WellPoint with the fact that there are some 1,400 conditions that can be used to cancel a policy, most of them so minor and obscure that the executives had never heard of them. Between 2003 and 2007, the three companies saved $300 million by rescinding at least 19,776 policies. By the time Batin finally got her surgery, her tumor had doubled in size. The Congressmen were shocked–they had no idea. Neither did I. The program? This American Life. I love Ira Glass, but come on, people! “Rescission” should be a word on the tip of everyone’s tongue by now.

You see, as former insurance insider Wendell Potter explains on Bill Moyers, insurance isn’t about helping you when you get sick or injured, it’s about making profits for their Wall Street investors by paying out as little as possible.

From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: You told Congress that the industry has hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street. You said, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.” How do they satisfy their Wall Street investors?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, there’s a measure of profitability that investors look to, and it’s called a medical loss ratio. And it’s unique to the health insurance industry. And by medical loss ratio, I mean that it’s a measure that tells investors or anyone else how much of a premium dollar is used by the insurance company to actually pay medical claims. And that has been shrinking, over the years, since the industry’s been dominated by, or become dominated by for-profit insurance companies. Back in the early ’90s, or back during the time that the Clinton plan was being debated, 95 cents out of every dollar was sent, you know, on average was used by the insurance companies to pay claims. Last year, it was down to just slightly above 80 percent.

So, investors want that to keep shrinking. And if they see that an insurance company has not done what they think meets their expectations with the medical loss ratio, they’ll punish them. Investors will start leaving in droves.

I’ve seen a company stock price fall 20 percent in a single day, when it did not meet Wall Street’s expectations with this medical loss ratio.

For example, if one company’s medical loss ratio was 77.9 percent, for example, in one quarter, and the next quarter, it was 78.2 percent. It seems like a small movement. But investors will think that’s ridiculous. And it’s horrible.

A truly warped way of making money, when you think of it.  What’s someone’s health, or even life worth, as long as the investors have their profit?

This is the reality of what’s happening.  Meanwhile, Sarah is trotting out Trig again for political gain.  Let’s hope she keeps whatever good insurance she has, so insurance executives and Wall Street investors don’t decide whether he can have care while she’s busy making more false claims about Obama.


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