The story veered back to the individual market with more quotes, including one from Joshua Needle of Santa Monica, who has some ailments that make it hard for him to shop for a cheaper policy. The Times noted that “once accepted by an insurer, consumers cannot be dropped for medical reasons.” True enough; the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) already forbids companies from dropping coverage for people who are seriously ill. But then included in a list of ways the Democrats would attack the cost of premiums came the idea that “insurers would be prohibited from denying or canceling coverage because of medical conditions.” Wait—didn’t the article just say that policies couldn’t be canceled for medical conditions?
Finally came a vague conclusion from “several insurance analysts” (left unnamed by the Times), who said it was possible “but not necessarily likely” that such increases would become common while the economic downturn persisted. Who were these analysts? It seemed like reporters talked to insurance brokers or agents, hardly the most authoritative sources in my book. The paper quoted one and indicated that brokers in Los Angeles had “never seen jumps of such magnitude.” Why not talk to state regulators, who are always in the know? That would be the first place I’d send a young reporter to get some facts about rate increases. The Times did talk to California’s insurance commissioner, but it would have been good to hear from those in other states where there have also been large rate increases.
We have a suggestion for redemption. Times reporters might want to keep up with the continuing rate increases in their own backyard from the likes of Empire Blue Cross. Are New Yorkers less outraged than Californians at the humongous increases they’ve seen in both the individual and employer markets? One of my students brought to class a notice his employer got from Oxford, telling of a 22 percent increase. A twenty-four-year old I know who is in good health got socked with an 11 percent increase from Empire; she now pays $764 a month for a policy without prescription coverage—and one, she found, was not accepted by many New York City doctors when she sought a doctor for a routine GYN exam.
Everything in health insurance is relative, which underscores the point that there’s no such thing as equity in the U.S. insurance system—as the Anthem story shows.