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What's so great about private health insurance?

The bloody battle in Congress over a 'public option' ignores the insurers' role in creating the nation's healthcare crisis and their efforts to throttle reform.

August 03, 2009|MICHAEL HILTZIK

Their only alternative right now is the individual market, where insurers scrutinize applicants' medical histories, looking for reasons to turn them down or charge them exorbitant premiums. Have hay fever, asthma, a cholesterol pill prescription? Are you a woman of child-bearing age? You're virtually uninsurable at an affordable cost.

Even if you're accepted, your carrier reserves the right to cancel your policy retroactively if it finds that you left even a tiny condition from years back off your application.

The public option may be your lifeline -- if it's enacted.

Signs of the industry's mobilization against the public option are everywhere. I don't claim clairvoyance for having predicted this development back in March; given the industry's record on reform, a child could have done so.

You've heard of the Blue Dog Democrats, those mostly rural conservatives who blocked a summertime vote on reform legislation on Capitol Hill? According to the Center for Public Integrity, the biggest backer of the Blue Dogs' political action committee is the healthcare industry, which is on the path to pumping a total of $1.2 million into the PAC's maw in the current 2009-10 election cycle.

Then there's the advocacy group called the Campaign for an American Solution, which describes itself as "a grass-roots effort . . . to build support for workable healthcare reform." The organization owns up to being an "initiative" of America's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, the industry's chief lobbying arm. Unless I've missed a radical change in lawn and garden horticulture, you can't get much further from the grass roots than to be a creation of the industry with the biggest stake in the debate.

Despite all this, America's health insurance plans, which helped create our dysfunctional world, are deferred to as though they're a disinterested party. AHIP subtitled one of its policy papers "A Vision for Reform." But are the insurers now, and have they ever been, anything other than a roadblock?


Read previous columns at's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP.

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