Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Uproar Over Insurance ‘Cancellation’ Letters

The Uproar Over Insurance ‘Cancellation’ Letters

Kathleen Sebelius testified on Capitol Hill on Oct. 30, 2013. 
Evan Vucci/Associated PressKathleen Sebelius testified on Capitol Hill on Oct. 30, 2013.
Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, took a lot of grief Wednesday from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who were outraged that some people’s individual insurance policies had been “cancelled” because of health care reform.
Some of the rants bordered on the comical. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, brandished his “cancellation” letter and demanded that Ms. Sebelius nullify the health law for all residents of his congressional district.
Most lawmakers mentioned President Obama’s unfortunate blanket statement that all Americans would be allowed to keep their insurance policies if they liked them. He failed to make an exception for inadequate policies that don’t meet the new minimum standards.

But in between lashings, Ms. Sebelius managed to make an important point. Yes, some people will be forced to upgrade their policies, she said. But that’s preferable to the status quo before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when insurers could cancel policies on a whim.
“The individual market in Kansas and anywhere in the country has never had consumer protections,” she testified at the hearing. “People are on their own. They could be locked out, priced out, dumped out. And that happened each and every day. So this will finally provide the kind of protections that we all enjoy in our health care plans.”
A true cancellation is when someone gets a letter saying that she’s losing her insurance and cannot renew. That was common practice in the individual market for people with expensive conditions. Under the new law, no one will ever get a letter like that again. They cannot be turned down for insurance.
The so-called cancellation letters waved around at yesterday’s hearing were simply notices that policies would have to be upgraded or changed. Some of those old policies were so full of holes that they didn’t include hospitalization, or maternity care, or coverage of other serious conditions.
Republicans were apparently furious that government would dare intrude on an insurance company’s freedom to offer a terrible product to desperate people.
“Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari,” said Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. “And some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem. You’re taking away their choice.”
Luckily, a comprehensive and affordable insurance policy is no longer a Ferrari; it is now a basic right. In the face of absurd comments and analogies like this one, Ms. Sebelius never lost her cool in three-and-a-half hours of testimony, perhaps because she knows that once the computer problems and the bellowing die down, the country will be far better off.

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