If you or your mother or sister or best friend have breast cancer, it seems like at least one insurance company has decided, without even hearing your story, that it wants to deny you coverage if it can find any reason, no matter how small or trivial.
We all know people who've been denied health insurance or been dropped by their carriers because of pre-existing conditions. It's sort of like when you have a car accident and your insurance company drops you as a bad safety risk. There was a time when health insurance didn't work this way, but as pressures have mounted for companies to protect shareholders over policyholders, the practice has increased.
It looks like the country's largest insurer, WellPoint, has taken that to a whole new distasteful level when it comes to women with breast cancer.
According to a recent Reuters investigation, it seems that WellPoint has a computer system that would spit out the names of women they insured who were diagnosed with breast cancer -- prompting an immediate investigation of that woman to see if there was anything they could dig up in her medical history that looked like a reason to deny coverage. Of course, WellPoint denies it ever did such a thing.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has called on WellPoint to cease the "unconscionable" practice, even before the new Affordable Care Act goes into effect, but I'm not holding my breath, even though WellPoint claims it will. There's a common theme running through our country today -- from Goldman Sachs on Wall Street to WellPoint's insurance -- and that's an apparent duty first to shareholders to turn a profit before thinking about what the "right" thing to do is when it comes to customers.
I wanted to link to the original Reuters story but, oddly, it's no longer available. (I'm glad I printed it out). I tried to access it through several locations, including stories that had originally linked to it, but I get that famous error message we all get from time to time suggesting that we've typed in the wrong URL.
I know the new health care legislation is designed to put a stop to these practices. But just as we know from the current Goldman Sachs story (and so many others like it in the past), the Wall Street guys are always able to find a way around new regulations to make more money for themselves and for shareholders. I suspect, sadly, that it'll be no different with health insurance. These are for-profit companies whose mission is money making, not healing. I'm just waiting to see how creative they have to get when they can't use their computer algorithms anymore. I'm sure they'll find some way.
WellPoint lobbied hard against health care reform -- no big surprise there. But there are other interesting tidbits about WellPoint. According to Congress, this is the same company that, along with two others, pocketed $300 million over five years by rescinding policies -- just like the ones they rescinded for all those breast cancer patients. This is also the company that tried to increase insurance premiums earlier this year in California by 39% because they thought they could get away with it. Even with health care reform, it's hard to guess what they'll try to get away with next and how it'll impact the health of our ta-tas.
My best and dearest friend in the world died almost three years ago from breast cancer. I don't ever want to find out WellPoint had anything to do with that. Because then I'd have to start a "boobquake" of my own.
Joanne Bamberger is sometimes better known around the blogosphere as PunditMom.
Photo courtesy of Photobucket.