Anthem Blue Cross is spending millions on executive salaries and lobby efforts against healthcare reform — and how are they paying for it? By forcing 39% increases on their policy holders in California.
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Senate Democrats are trying to extract some embarrassing information from the insurance industry about their deceptive practices.
First, Tom Harkin, who is seeking to subpoena insurers for failing to provide information requested by his committee.
Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said his committee may demand information from health insurance companies about the reasoning for steep increases in premiums faced by small businesses.
“I’ve been inundated with letters and information about the exorbitant increases in premiums for small businesses in this country,” Harkin said during an appearance on MSNBC. “I asked them to come and testify at a hearing I had yesterday. They refused.”
“So now I’m asking them to give us information on which we can make some decisions on why these premiums are going up so much for small businesses,” he added.
Jay Rockefeller also wants some information about the industry’s “medical loss ratio,” and how they cook the books to pretend that they spend a substantial amount of premium money on treatment and care.
The New York Times reports: “The health insurance industry likes to cite figures showing that 87 cents of every dollar in premiums is spent on medical claims. But a new Senate analysis suggests that for-profit insurance companies are spending much less than that, especially for policies sold to individuals and small businesses. Instead, as little as 66 cents of each dollar paid in premiums goes toward doctor and hospital bills, while the rest covers administrative expenses, marketing and company profits, according to the analysis. …. The [health reform] legislation that may reach the House floor later this week would initially require insurers to spend at least 85 cents of every dollar in premiums on medical claims.”
A long-standing complaint from individuals and small businesses is that they get less for their money. “But insurance companies generally do not disclose how much they spend in different segments of the market. The Senate analysis of the figures does not include information from California, because that state’s filings are not available through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. … The insurance industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said Monday that the 87-cent figure it cited as the industry average was based on information collected by the federal government and was an accurate reflection of how much of each dollar in premiums was spent on medical claims.” (Abelson, 11/2).
This comes at a time when the Senate is about to unveil their health care bill. This information could be crucial to massing public opinion against the industry and keeping the entire Democratic caucus on board with reform.
Ryan Grim reported yesterday that Harry Reid decided to leave out the repeal of the insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption from the Senate health care bill, preferring to include it as an amendment on the floor. However, the House bill does include repeal, albeit the partial one that passed the Judiciary Committee and not the full repeal of the exemption that some Democrats sought. The narrow-cast repeal in the House bill refers specifically to “price fixing, market allocation, or monopolization.” This would enable the Justice Department to go after monopolistic practices in the health insurance or the medical malpractice insurance market in the states. While CBO basically said that this would have a minimal effect, it would put those engaged in corrupt practices either in jail or out of business, which is preferable to the alternative.
The fact that the House will embed, and probably pass, this repeal makes its ultimate survival in conference pretty good, since we know Harry Reid, who testified in its favor, is a supporter. He may not have wanted to introduce something in the blend of the bills that didn’t appear in either of them, but that won’t be the case in the conference committee.
Here’s some amusing video from the group “Billionaires for Wealthcare” as they crashed the AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) conference today. Pollster Bill McInturf initially took their mocking “thank you for all the good work you do” as a compliment, and then the group broke into song, a parody of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, with lyrics like “the option, the option, the public wants options, without it it’s a giveaway!”
In other creative anti-insurance company activism, Americans United For Change has released a video highlighting this peculiar tendency from insurers of late to deny babies health coverage because of their weight, whether they be too skinny or too fat. The video features “Patriot Baby,” a talking prodigy, hitting the industry for their tactics.
The White House just released a video first lady Michelle Obama, focusing on health care and gender disparity. She tells a personal story about her daughter and a bout with meningitis, and what that might have looked like if the family didn’t have insurance. She includes a story of medical bankruptcy and a woman denied health insurance for a pre-existing condition. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also appears in the piece, explaining that insurance companies can charge women substantially more than men, can choose not to cover services women need, and can even deny coverage over things like domestic violence.
This new layer of the health care debate is undeniably compelling. Insurance industry discrimination against women ought to be completely intolerable.
The video premiered on the site iVillage.com. The site is also taking questions for the White House on health reform.
A top lobbyist for the major private insurance industry trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), urged Congressional Republicans to not even consider helping Democrats pass health care reform lest they aid an “enemy who is down.”
Steve Champlin, a lobbyist for the Duberstein Group who represents AHIP, declared that the road to a bipartisan health care reform bill was, essentially, dead. And he urged GOP members to keep it that way.
“There is absolutely no interest, no reason Republicans should ever vote for this thing. They have gone from a party that got killed 11 months ago to a party that is rising today. And they are rising up on the turmoil of health care,” said Champlin. “So when they vote for a health care reform bill, whatever it is, they are giving comfort to the enemy who is down.”
“Long before the Republicans discovered that the House bill was a strategy to kill seniors and all that kind of stuff the plan was already unpopular,” he added, underscoring why Republicans shouldn’t attach themselves to the legislation.
Champlin got $400,000 from AHIP this year, so you can be pretty sure he speaks for them.
This has been a year in the making, as Jason Rosenbaum points out. The insurance industry has always offered a fig leaf of support, while in actuality spending their millions lobbying against anything that wouldn’t set up a profit bonanza for them, using astroturf campaigns, debunked reports, and even scare-seniors ads. All the while, they claimed to oppose things like rescission and denying coverage for pre-existing condition while continuing to employ them for the most frivolous and even offensive reasons. For example, denying children coverage based on their weight:
First, a Colorado baby was turned down for health insurance for being too big. Now, another Colorado child has been turned down for health insurance for being too small.
Just a week after TODAY highlighted the story of 4-month-old Alex Lange, who at 17 pounds was considered obese, the show presented Wednesday the equally curious case of 2-year-old Aislin Bates, who at 22 pounds was turned down for health insurance for not meeting a proposed insurer’s height and weight standards.
Christina Turner feared that she might have been sexually assaulted after two men slipped her a knockout drug. She thought she was taking proper precautions when her doctor prescribed a month’s worth of anti-AIDS medicine.
Only later did she learn that she had made herself all but uninsurable [...]
Turner, 45, who used to be a health insurance underwriter herself, said the insurance companies examined her health records. Even after she explained the assault, the insurers would not sell her a policy because the HIV medication raised too many health questions. They told her they might reconsider in three or more years if she could prove that she was still AIDS-free.
Rattled by their failed effort to kill health care reform, Karen Ignagni, the head of the health insurance lobby, took to the Washington Post today to claim, no, really, we love reform, trust us!
Let me be clear and direct: Health plans continue to strongly support reform. In fact, last year we proposed new insurance market rules and consumer protections to achieve universal coverage, remove restrictions on preexisting conditions and end the practice of basing premiums on health status or gender. We firmly believe that all the cost concerns the report raised can be resolved.
Practically every option Ignagni brings up to “resolve” those cost concerns, like killing the excise tax on high-end insurance plans, would only exacerbate them by draining the system of resources and eliminating cost controls.
Furthermore, the entire notion that the industry supports health care reform is ludicrous on its face. They are the cause of most of the practices that need reforming. If they supported reform they wouldn’t sustain a system that led to outcomes like this:
Jenny Fritts was 24 years old. Jenny lived with her husband Sean for the past five years, and together they had a little girl named Kylee, 2. Jenny was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child – a beautiful, baby girl.
Jenny is dead. Jenny’s unborn baby is dead. They died because they were turned away for appropriate care at a for-profit hospital because they did not have health insurance. Sean rushed Jenny back to another hospital when her symptoms became even more severe, and he lied about having insurance to get her in the door. She was placed on a respirator in intensive care, but she didn’t make it. She died. And so did her baby.
They become two more of the more than 45,000 Americans who die preventable deaths due to our broken healthcare system every year. Two more. Mother and child.
On “Meet the Press” yesterday, host David Gregory asked Kyl a very good question: “[Y]ou and other Republicans have said this healthcare reform should be opposed, and one of the major reasons you cite is how much money it costs, how much it could potentially add to the deficit, although the president says it’ll be deficit-neutral. And yet when you talk about the war in Afghanistan and the commanders should have more of their troops, I’ve never heard you say that that should be deficit-neutral, that war costs should somehow not break the bank. Why is that disparity there?”
Kyl responded by saying we can’t “scrimp and save or try to win a war on the cheap,” adding that the conflict in Afghanistan “is a war of necessity,” because of 9/11. Gregory followed up, asking whether it might also be a “necessity” to address the fact that “more and more Americans who die because they don’t have access to health insurance.”
Kyl replied, “I’m not sure that it’s a fact that more and more people die because they don’t have health insurance; but because they don’t have health insurance, the care is not delivered in the best and most efficient way.”
Kyl is just denying a basic fact – a recent Harvard study showed that 45,000 Americans die every year from a lack of health insurance. The uninsured routinely put off health care because they cannot afford the costs, leading to greater complications as disease and illness festers, and death. Recently, an uninsured constituent of John Boehner’s died from the swine flu because she didn’t go to the hospital for immediate treatment.
What Jon Kyl said regarding health care deaths is no different from what James Inhofe says on a daily basis about climate science.
The President’s weekly message this week has generated more attention than a lot of the others, because it features him taking his hardest edge yet against the health insurance industry – the kind of message that progressives have wanted him to deliver for some time now.
This is the unsustainable path we’re on, and it’s the path the insurers want to keep us on. In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo. They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.
Of course, like clockwork, we’ve seen folks on cable television who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We’ve seen industry insiders – and their apologists – citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren’t true. They’ll claim that premiums will go up under reform; but they know that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that reforms will lower premiums in a new insurance exchange while offering consumer protections that will limit out-of-pocket costs and prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. They’ll claim that you’ll have to pay more out of pocket; but they know that this is based on a study that willfully ignores whole sections of the bill, including tax credits and cost savings that will greatly benefit middle class families. Even the authors of one of these studies have now admitted publicly that the insurance companies actually asked them to do an incomplete job.
It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar.
Later on in the address, the President mentions the insurance industry’s anti-trust exemption, once again raising the possibility that it would be repealed in this round of reform.
And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.
The House Judiciary Committee will actually tackle this issue in the coming week, by marking up the “Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009,” a bill that would repeal the exemption, on Wednesday. John Conyers, the chair of the Committee, said, “These abuses are plainly illegal in other industries, and it does not make sense, when Congress is working so hard to bring meaningful reform to the market in health insurance, that health insurers should continue to be exempted from federal antitrust oversight.” And Nancy Pelosi expressed support for the measure at her press conference on Thursday. I’d say the chances of repeal being inserted into the final health care bill have gone up to at least 50/50.
The White House has been nudging in the direction of painting the insurance industry as a villain in this debate for several weeks now. But this is a full frontal assault, clearly in reaction to the flawed industry reports and attack ads designed to scare seniors that we’ve seen this week.
Of course, if the niceties have ended and the deals faded, then the President could actually make insurers REALLY uncomfortable through actions and not words, by supporting competition for them through a public option and demanding its inclusion in any bill.
The Senate HELP Committee held a very interesting hearing on health insurance gender discrimination. It has not been a subject that has come up much in the current debate, but for women often paying twice as much as men for the same insurance coverage, it’s crucial. Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center described it as being a woman equaling a “pre-existing condition.” Legislation in both chambers of Congress would eliminate gender discrimination and mandate certain treatments and procedures specific to women for all health care coverage.
At Thursday’s hearing, many women had examples of individual policies that require women to pay more than men in some states, including Idaho, where insurers who issue individual policies can use age, sex, geography and whether a client smokes as factors in determining premiums. Some women attended the hearing wearing T-shirts that said, “I am not a pre-existing condition.” [...]
The committee also heard from women such as Peggy Robertson of Colorado, who read a letter from her insurance company. Robertson testified that because she’d already given birth via cesarean, when she tried to get an individual policy in Colorado, her insurance company considered it a pre-existing condition and wouldn’t insure her unless she could prove she’d been sterilized.
That “put me on the edge of my chair,” said the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., calling it “offensive and morally repugnant.”
Yes, we’re talking about coercing sterilization in the United States of America. Courtesy of the insurance industry.
As we’ve read about in recent weeks, procedures like maternity care and mammograms are often not covered by insurers; the latter has become a major factor in the New Jersey Governor’s race, as the Republican nominee Chris Christie wants to allow insurers to drop coverage for mammograms. Greenberger added additional facts in her testimony:
Our research included an extensive analysis of gender rating, the practice under which insurers charge men and women different premiums for coverage. We found that in the individual insurance market, women can pay dearly because of this rampant practice. At age 25, for instance, women are charged as much as 45% more than men for coverage, and at age 40 they are charged as much as 48% more than men. Even with maternity care excluded, the variations in the differentials totally undermine any claim that these differences are actuarially driven.
For instance, we found that the best-selling health plans in Phoenix , Arizona charged a 40-year-old woman anywhere from 2% to 51% more than a 40-year-old man for identical coverage. In Lincoln , Nebraska a woman of that age was charged anywhere between 11% and 60% more than a man.
I don’t see how it is acceptable to give an industry that practices routine discrimination against the majority of Americans – whether it’s the sick, the elderly, or women – expanded power and a monopoly on a large market in the name of “reform.”