Thursday, January 27, 2011

So You Want The Old Health Care Rules Back?

Whenever surveys ask what people think about the Health Care Reform I keep yelling inside my head about the way the questions are put. It's not exactly informative to know how many people dislike some aspect of the reform bill unless we also ask if people want the old system back.

Perhaps the majority do? Or at least the majority of voters. Voters are not a random sample of the general population.

At the same time, I do think that the administration made a mess out of the compromises and ended up with a half-camel-half-spider instead of the horse they tried to build. For instance, the "bribing" of the health insurance industry meant that the really useful competitive injection: the public option, was left out, and many of the serious problems in for-profit health care remained.

Still, this might not be quite so easy under the new system:
Two pennies. That's the difference between a potentially life-saving surgery and a dropped insurance plan.

Those 2 cents could cost Vietnam veteran Ronald Flanagan everything.

"Everybody we talk to is very surprised that 2 cents is enough to do this," said Flanagan.

It was an innocent enough mistake, according to Ronald's wife, Frances Flanagan.

"If I only had just hit the nine instead of the seven," Frances said.

When she was paying their monthly health insurance premium online in November, Frances swapped a 7 for a 9, leaving their $328.69 payment 2 cents short.

"And now we're just pulling teeth and trying to figure out what's the next step," Frances said.

Their insurance benefits administrator, Ceridian Cobra Services, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., promptly dropped the Flanagans for the 2-cent shortage.


Ron has been fighting cancer since September 2008. He has multiple myeloma -- cancer in the bone marrow. Doctors at St. Luke's have performed stem cell transplant surgery twice. He needs another transplant before the end of February, and they have a donor. But because of the 2-cent mistake, Ceridian Cobra Services will not pay for the procedure.

There may be more to that story. But the fact remains that for-profit insurance companies have strong incentives to get rid of expensive cases whenever possible. They also have strong incentives to try to insure mostly healthy people.