As it happens, Reuters published an investigative report this week that powerfully illustrates the vileness of our current system. The report concerns the insurer Fortis, now part of Assurant Health, which turns out to have had a systematic policy of revoking its clients’ policies when they got sick. In particular, according to the Reuters report, it targeted every single policyholder who contracted H.I.V., looking for any excuse, no matter how flimsy, for cancellation. In the case that brought all this to light, Assurant Health used an obviously misdated handwritten note by a nurse, who wrote “2001” instead of “2002,” to claim that the infection was a pre-existing condition that the client had failed to declare, and revoked his policy.In a perfect world in which I ruled over the President and the congress, the insurance companies would be shut down and a universal health care system put in place. But the political realities of 2010 don't allow for such a proposal. However, the political realities of 2010, for the first time in our nation's history, could very well lead to a much-needed, flawed, but preferable health care overhaul.
Beyond that, this is a story that could happen only in America. In every other advanced nation, insurance coverage is available to everyone regardless of medical history. Our system is unique in its cruelty.
And one more thing: employment-based health insurance, which is already regulated in a way that mostly prevents this kind of abuse, is unraveling. Less than half of workers at small businesses were covered last year...
So what’s the answer? Americans overwhelmingly favor guaranteeing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions — but you can’t do that without pursuing broad-based reform. To make insurance affordable, you have to keep currently healthy people in the risk pool, which means requiring that everyone or almost everyone buy coverage. You can’t do that without financial aid to lower-income Americans so that they can pay the premiums. So you end up with a tripartite policy: elimination of medical discrimination, mandated coverage, and premium subsidies.
Or to put it another way, you end up with something like the health care plan Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts in 2006, and the very similar plan the House either will or won’t pass in the next few days. Comprehensive reform is the only way forward.
Can you imagine a better reform? Sure. If Harry Truman had managed to add health care to Social Security back in 1947, we’d have a better, cheaper system than the one whose fate now hangs in the balance. But an ideal plan isn’t on the table. And what is on the table, ready to go, is legislation that is fiscally responsible, takes major steps toward dealing with rising health care costs, and would make us a better, fairer, more decent nation.
All it will take to make this happen is for a handful of on-the-fence House members to do the right thing.
I will repeat what I've been saying for months: If this bill goes down to defeat at the hands of a few House progressives, then health care reform is off the table for at least another generation; and any progressive Democrat who votes "no" under such a circumstance should lose their seat.