There is a health insurance provider whose primary motivation is money. This healthcare provider has a propensity to drag its feet or refuse medical care because of a loophole, technicality in its policy, even if you paid your bill every month. Would you still trust this healthcare provider to have your wellbeing at heart when providing care means taking money out of his or her pocket? This sums up the ineffective, broken and downright offensive healthcare system in this country. America is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee its citizens affordable healthcare.
Anthem Blue Cross, the nation’s largest health insurer, shocked everyone two weeks ago when it sent letters to many of its customers in California informing them that their premiums would increase by up to 39 percent, effective March 1. This punishing rate increase is for people who buy individual insurance; they do not have the benefit of employers’ group plans. With unemployment hovering above 10 percent in California, this could not come at a worse time.
Such a rate increase would suggest that Anthem is hurting for cash. Not so. Despite posting a whopping $2.7 billion in profits in the last quarter of 2009, Anthem said that it has no choice but to increase premiums. Wasting no time, the Obama administration blasted Anthem for its action. In a letter to Anthem’s president, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that “these extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make health care unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy.”
Not surprisingly, Anthem defended its actions with a litany of excuses—increasing healthcare costs, demographic changes and a decline in membership. Individuals who are young, healthy and in a financial bind are switching to lower-cost, high-deductible health plans or forgoing medical insurance altogether, leaving insurers with a higher proportion of risky customers—those who are older and less healthy. In an attempt to maintain profits at all costs, Anthem is sticking these people with the bill. California State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner secured an agreement with Anthem to postpone the rate increases until May 1, giving state regulators enough time to go over Anthem’s rates to ensure that it complies with state law.
Almost everybody agrees that our current healthcare system must be overhauled. Countless middle-class individuals are without health insurance, and those who have insurance are increasingly paying more for less. The cost of healthcare is so great that uninsured Americans are just one severe illness away from bankruptcy. Critically ill patients are denied services because of loopholes and technicalities in insurance company policies, or, worse, they are dropped altogether for filing a claim. And if they have a pre-existing condition, they can forget about obtaining affordable medical insurance.
It is embarrassing that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have universal healthcare. It is embarrassing that in the United States, health care is a privilege for some citizens rather than a right for all. And it is shameful that the needs of our corporations take precedence over the needs of our citizens. Sure, none of us like to pay taxes, but the alternative is worse. Making sure that all of our citizens have adequate healthcare is not a cost. It is an investment that all of us—the wealthy and the poor, the healthy and the ill—will benefit from.
The insurance industry, whose interests are in maintaining the status quo, spends millions lobbying our elected officials every year. Comprehensive healthcare reform, President Obama’s flagship program, appears to be dead in the water. All businesses need to make money to stay in business, but I question whether health insurance should be a for-profit enterprise. Unfortunately, some lawmakers and pundits are quick to denounce anyone who expresses this view with the insult of the day: socialist. Why not offer a government insurance program for all, not just for the elderly and indigent?
There are arguments to be made against this idea. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of increasing government control over anything. Healthcare is already regulated, they say.
In fact, the government is already involved in healthcare. Medicare—a government-run, taxpayer supported insurance program—is available for individuals ages 65 and over. As it stands, we, the taxpayers, support our neediest—the elderly and the destitute—and are at the mercy of healthcare corporations, who exist for pure profit and the enhancement of shareholder value. Every claim that an insurance company pays is money out of its pocket. As we sink deeper into this economic crisis and more and more of our healthier or unemployed neighbors are priced out of the insurance market, we can look forward to insurance companies gouging us whenever and however they see fit.