Critical Condition

Obama: ‘We’re Going to Require Insurers to Cover What They Already Cover’

Yesterday’s town hall in New Hampshire was another damp squib, I’m afraid. (I think the networks have learned that health reform is bad for ratings, so they’ve dialled back the coverage.) But it’s clear that the government has decided to make health insurers the targets, and leave Big Pharma alone (but we already knew that).

So, there’s no more “red pill versus blue pill.” Instead, there’s the promise that the U.S. government will force insurance companies to cover preventive screenings for breast and prostate cancer — which they already do. And he’s going to prevent insurers from dropping you when your sick — which has been illegal under federal law since 1997, and also under state law.

Despite the president’s claim that “no one holds these companies accountable for these practices“, that’s what state insurance commissioners do: Enforce good-faith execution of insurance contracts. One would think that the president would know this, what with his Secretary of Health & Human Services having been the Kansas Insurance Commissioner.

If a health insurer drops you because you’ve misrepresented your health status on your application, it’s called “rescission.”  If the insurer does it illegally, it’s called “post-claims underwriting.” Yes, it happens sometimes (but a lot less than the president suggests) and insurance commissioners are ruthless about it. Indeed, I’ve previously argued that they’ve gone overboard, levying huge fines when the evidence suggests applicants did misrepresent their health status.

So, not only has he not read the bills before Congress: He’s not even familiar with the laws that already exist. Even if his “reform” was not harmful, it would certainly be redundant.

— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.