Health Insurance Companies Already Taking Advantage

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HUFFINGTON POST– The insurance industry’s attempt to weasel out of one of the few provisions of the new health care reform law that took effect immediately is a harbinger of what’s to come. But far from being satisfied with a windfall of new customers and massive government subsidies, the nation’s insurance companies appear to already be busy devising ways to game the new system. Their goal, as ever: Maximizing profits by paying out as little on actual health care as possible. And next time they start to weasel, Congress and the White House – and the media – may not be paying attention anymore.

“This is what you’re going to see as each element in this plan comes up for implementation,” said Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine who now teaches at Harvard Medical School. “This insurance industry is going to give up nothing.” In the short run, companies are expected to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which means, among other things, jacking up their rates. “There’s nothing to stop them from raising their premiums, and that’s what they’re going to do,” said Angell, a supporter of “single-payer” health insurance.

The new law’s ban on discriminating against adults with preexisting conditions doesn’t kick in until 2014. “In the meantime, they can continue to cherry pick the healthiest customers, while foisting the sick into the new high-risk pool,” said Wendell Potter, a former senior health insurance executive at CIGNA who went rogue and became a consumer advocate.

That’s only the beginning, though. “They also will continue to try to shift more and more of the cost of health care from them to the people that are enrolled in their plans,” Potter said. That involves moving people currently in managed care, with its relatively modest co-pays, “out of those plans and into high-deductible plans that make people pay thousands of dollars before the company will pay a dime,” Potter said.

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