Dear Health Insurance Companies,
You know you brought this on yourselves.
After years of seemingly arbitrary rate hikes, Byzantine rule changes, unexplained claim denials and inexplicable declinations of coverage it caught up with you. Now the U.S. government is poised to take over your business because of your arcane treatment of policyholders. Congratulations, health insurance — you've dug your own grave, one denied procedure at a time.
For years we diligently paid your bloated premiums while we noticed your sparkling, billion-square-foot additions and high-quality artwork in the marble foyers, painted by some of America's finest hotel-motel artists. We noticed Anthem's state-of-the-art gym in its Staples Mill monolith that's off-limits to policyholders but reserved for accountants and actuaries to get some much-needed cardio while they plot our next rate hike.
We swallowed those annual rate hikes that arrived with no explanations. Sometimes we called for justification, only to be told after enduring “Wichita Lineman” while on hold that our premium increase was due to “negative experience in our industry class” or some such impenetrable nonsense that we suspected was just a flimsy excuse to extort more money with no legal justification to tell us why. Despite the hefty increases we received in return for similar or even less coverage than we had before.
You never learn, big health insurance. Remember the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978? You had to be told by government to treat pregnancy and childbirth as any other medical condition and pay benefits accordingly. How about Cobra in 1985? You had to be forced to let terminated employees keep their health insurance. In 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act had to step in with nondiscrimination standards, and the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act required you to provide minimal overnight coverage of at least 48 hours for a mother and her newborn following delivery because you were kicking them out almost as soon as the cord was cut.
Yet like a three-pack-per-day smoker with bagpipe lungs you continued to merrily light up, despite President Obama's warnings that your days were numbered. You saw the Feds introduce measure after measure to counter the inequities in your business model yet you dithered, pulling stunts like informing the Richmond woman with stage four breast cancer that while her cripplingly expensive high-dosage chemo was indeed effective, it unfortunately was not covered under her plan. She didn't see it? It's right there, buried in a wall of four-point legalese in her explanation of coverage. Cancer patient: $65,000; insurance company: $0.
You may remember, health insurance, that I am one of your health and life representatives. I maintain that private, not government reform, is preferable. I stuck up for you. I sell supplemental policies that plug the holes you create. I write inexpensive backup policies for those who cannot afford your overpriced plans. I make you look good, and I'm getting really tired of it.
We are aware of the constraints on your industry, but we no longer have much empathy. We understand you're a business, not a charity, and have to hold billions of dollars in assets to cover your claims and secure your financial ratings. We know your profit margins are lower than Tupperware's.
Yes, you're somewhat limited in your coverage areas by federal bureaucracy. We're aware of adverse selections, pools and other esoteric terms that dictate coverage and set premiums. President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, however, despite having zero experience in the insurance industry, have decided these are just your excuses to keep Americans from the health insurance they're so rightfully entitled. Your reluctance to adapt and your silence in the face of impending ruin was inexplicable, and we did not understand why you at first seemed to embrace health-care reform but then howled in agony when the reality finally sunk in. Your surveys and reports bolstering your stance were too little, too late to stop the House avalanche that started at midnight Saturday night and will crash through the Senate in the coming weeks, possibly ending in the White House Rose Garden with a stroke of Obama's pen next year.
If this reform passes there's going to be an 800-pound clown on our porch, pecking on the window. So thanks to your ignominious business practices we're going to add 30 million more people to the rolls without adding a proportionate number of medical practitioners, creating a logjam of patients eager to take advantage of free health care. Just like in Canada. Bureaucrats in more than 100 new federal bureaus and agencies with no medical experience are going to tell doctors what procedures we can and cannot have, based on an age-cost matrix. We make fun of British dental care, but we'd better get used to it. Medicare will be gutted and our taxes will explode. There will be no incentives for physicians to provide the best possible care, no incentives for patients to seek the best care at the lowest price, and no incentives for drug companies to provide new drugs and treatments. I give it a decade before it collapses entirely.
The government is going to take a bad private situation and turn it into an even worse socialized man-made disaster, so thank you, health insurance industry, for your tone-deaf contributions. S
Dale Brumfield is a payroll services broker and writer living in Doswell.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
Computer (A) tells faceless bureaucrat (B) that patient needs hip replacement surgery, who thumbs through 2,000-page health care index (C) to see if it is covered procedure. Wind from fanning pages (D) powers eco-correct wind-powered vacuum (E) which sucks wallet (F) from American taxpayer's pocket (G). Wallet travels through tube (H) and drops into “Big Pharmacy” slush fund bucket (I). Weight of wallet tilts TV (J) playing endless loop of President Obama saying, “If you like your current health coverage you can keep it.” Angered by president's message, taxpayer's blood pressure (K) raises meter, tripping lever (L) and rolling ball (M) into basket (N). Basket compresses bellows (O), injecting taxpayer with mandatory H1N1 vaccine (P) and ejecting thousands of pink slips (Q) for health insurance industry employees. Basket also trips switch on eco-correct twisty fluorescent bulb (R), which slowly melts ice block (S). Water collects in funnel (T), tipping lever and raising calendar (U), postponing surgery by six months and revising cost matrix (V), showing physician (W) that a double-foot amputation costs less than a hip replacement. Patient (X) has both feet amputated instead of hip replacement, saving government program $72.