Failed Health, Failed Promises

How much evidence is needed before this nation and its elected representatives come around to the fact that a for-profit system to provide and manage health care is corrupt, inefficient, and inequitable? Why do we continue to embrace a system that completely excludes tens of millions of Americans and leaves countless others with inadequate or suspect coverage, a system that bankrupts a great many common folk while richly lining the pockets of insurance executives? What will it take for health care to be treated as a basic human right rather than a luxury item at Bloomingdale’s? Perhaps the following story from USA Today will add some fuel to the fires of some much-needed change:

People left holding bag when policies revoked

Denise Wheeler, an artist in Laguna Beach, Calif., thought she and her family had health insurance.

So did Tony Seals, a self-employed businessman in nearby Riverside. Across the country in Connecticut, Maria Locker and Linda Gaskill each bought short-term insurance policies to protect themselves against catastrophic costs.

But each was left with tens of thousands in unpaid medical bills when their insurers — all major companies — retroactively canceled their policies after they faced expensive health problems. “It’s the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to us,” says Seals, 43.

Their stories illustrate a little-recognized fact about insurance purchased by individuals: Even after being approved, policyholders can see their coverage amended to exclude certain medical conditions or revoked entirely, sometimes long after the policies are issued.

“Insurers love to market the promise, ‘We’ll take care of you. Just sign here,’ ” says Karen Pollitz of the Institute for Health Care Research and Policy at Georgetown University. “Then there is all this opportunity for the insurer not to keep the promise, and you don’t find out until it’s too late.” [full text]