Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

History is about  “what happened.” Politics is too often about what politicians want you to think happened. If you think that Obamacare is a problem because government has done too much, what did you think about those days when government did too little about insurance companies?

Anyone old enough to read this is old enough to remember those days. It was not that long ago that health insurance companies canceled policies willy-nilly whenever someone actually got sick or denied coverage altogether if an applicant had a hint of a “pre-existing condition.”

Think getting on is tough. Remember the days when you had to call a variety of companies, meet with agents, decipher sales pitches, read the fine print on brochures and pray their jive matched the legalese crafty lawyers wrote into the policy itself.

Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

Before the Affordable Care Act, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations actually investigated insurance company fraud and abuses. A committee investigation in 2009 showed that one health insurer canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period. The committee proved some insurers “targeted policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions…for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.”

In the not so distant past, it was the national pastime for insurance companies to hire doctors to search your medical records when you filed a claim. They were looking for any little event on which they could hang a claim that you had been less than fully honest about your medical history.
One of countless examples was uncovered, as many were, in a courtroom, the only refuge in those days for people who had been badly mistreated by an insurance company. The LA Times reported an employee of California Blue Cross (now Anthem Blue Cross, a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc.) testified his company “routinely canceled policies of sick members after looking for inconsistencies—not fraud—in their applications.”

Some insurance companies were found to have paid bonuses to employees who found reasons to cancel policies when a policyholder dared to actually get sick and file a claim.
Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.
In the days before the ACA, simply being a woman was a pre-existing condition allowing insurers the opportunity to discriminate in premium rates, claims handling, and policy cancelation. “Please keep up the good work with the marketing reps of not trying to sign up pregnant women.” That 2001 “thank you” email was sent to company managers by Amerigroup Corp.’s medical management head in Illinois.

In 2008, the NY Times reported, “Striking new evidence emerged of a widespread gap in the cost of health insurance, as women pay much more than men of the same age for individual insurance policies providing identical coverage.”

Under the ACA, insurance companies are required to actually spend most of your premium dollars on your health and not their own welfare. Not so in the good old days. In 2003, Peter Babin, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana’s CEO, could get by calling legislators and their constituents “petty” when they complained about his $1.4 million dollar compensation package. 

And what was to complain about when premiums increased as he received dog-sitting services, first-class travel for him and his wife, and a $2,500 annual dining expense account.  
Today and as a result of Obamacare, companies with excessive administrative costs must refund the excess to their policyholders.

Memory loss is a terrible problem among politicians and those who elect them. Forgetting history is what allows it to be repeated. Some politicians rely on our ability to forget even recent history. The next time you hear a complaint about Obamacare or its website, ask the complainer to recount what life was like in the good old days of a year or two ago.

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