Our Health Care System at Work (or not)

I woke up this morning with a lousy sore throat, and since I have to travel for work this afternoon, I thought it might be a good idea to get in and see a doctor as soon as possible. I left a message for my primary – who failed to call me back – and when I called again to see about a quick appointment sometime this morning, I was told she couldn’t make time. I actually think the receptionist said she “had a lunch.”

My second step was to call my obgyn (whom I adore and whose office is always helpful) for a recommendation for another primary on short notice. And you know what they did? They recognized the urgency of my request and offered to make time a little later this morning. I didn’t know that was an option, but I’m glad it is.

There is something inherently wrong with not being able to get in and see a doctor when you need it most. How do you know when you are going to get sick? You don’t. I’m grateful for physicians who see the reality and are willing to work around it, but this is just one more reason why we need reform. Stat.

postscript: The irony of the whole scenario though is that I’m off to NYC this afternoon to meet with health care providers tied into HCAN, and now I’m scrambling to see a doctor so I can go speak to a group of doctors. It feels a little bit like cleaning the house before the housekeeper comes.

Bad Sex

Call me a traitor to my gender, but I DVRed the Sex and the City movie over the weekend, and the first 34 minutes were enough to make me embarrassed to be a woman.

In Writing

We all know health insurance companies refuse coverage or hike up rates based on pre-existing conditions they themselves define. A write in The Miami Herald from over the weekend points to underwriting guidance manuals available online which show you can be rejected for everything from pregnancy to severe acne. The article also talks about data mining for prescriptions and how insurance companies can keep track of what you take and then say yes or no based on medications too. Pages 30-32 of the Vista guide detail that company’s list of what gets automatically declined.

And these are the same people asking us to trust them when it comes to health care reform.

Are We There Yet?

I’m very antsy today. We should have had class outside.

Anyway, there’s this bizarre coalition that a couple of our partners pulled out of earlier this month. It’s called the Health Reform Dialogue, and today, it announced it has come to a consensus on reform.

Yeah, not so much. As Richard points out in our official statement:

“After months of discussions the groups that remained in the Health Reform Dialogue could not agree on the tough decisions that Congress and the President must make,” said Richard Kirsch, National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now. “They didn’t answer whether employers will be required to provide or help pay for coverage. They didn’t answer whether insurance companies will be allowed to hike rates on businesses when an employee gets sick or charge more for people who are older or women. Will Americans be guaranteed good, affordable health coverage or be stuck with high-deductible, bare-bones plans? Will we have a choice of private or public health insurance plans? By failing to address these crucial questions, they’ve moved the health care debate forward a few inches. In the next few months, Congress and the President will need to go the full mile.”

My favorite quote from the Health Reform Dialogue release comes from the health insurance lobby (emphases mine):

“The contributions from each stakeholder in the Health Reform Dialogue over the past six months have forged a consensus that the time for health care reform is now.”
–Karen Ignagni, president & CEO, America’s Health Insurance Plans

Wow. That’s quite an accomplishment. Good thing we took a gamble and used it in our name.

Speaking of HCAN, I’ve got one last conference call and then I am going to try and sneak out before anyone notices I’ve made the great escape. Have an excellent weekend.

Happy Hours

When it’s this gorgeous outside, there ought to be a law that no one’s allowed to work, and end of the week patio beverage consumption must commence earlier than usual.

Much earlier.

Who’s with me?

Mixed Messages

They were selling Girl Scout Cookies at the gym tonight.

Front and (sort of) Center

That’s Jason – our Deputy Online Campaigns Manager – in the light blue shirt sitting right behind President Obama. Jason’s the brain behind most of our HCAN blog posts.

This screengrab is from CNN.com because they had the best shot of Jason, but you can also watch the Online Town Hall live on the White House website here.

UPDATE: Here’s another shot of JRo courtesy of John:

On Location

I’ve got to do a little scouting this morning. I’ve been asked to see about an outdoor spot for our big June mobilization here in DC. The goal is to get a sense of layout and take some pictures.

Slight bummer it’s raining for the first time in weeks.

One For The Road

HCAN made the NYT today too:

Richard J. Kirsch, the national campaign manager of Health Care for America Now, a consumer group, said: “If the goal is to make insurance affordable, the latest concession does not go far enough. Insurance companies should also be prohibited from setting rates based on age or sex, and the rating reforms should apply to small businesses as well as individuals.”

Not What It Seems

AHIP and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association sent a letter to Senators Grassley, Baucus, Enzi, and Kennedy yesterday saying, “we believe that we could guarantee issue coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions and phase out the practice of varying premiums based on health status in the individual market.” The first part of this is not new. The second is, but while it seems like a significant concession, it’s not.

Here’s why. The rest of the letter goes on to read, “While we support transitioning to a reformed system in which health-status-based rating is no longer used, rating flexibility based on age, geography, family size, and benefit design is needed to maintain affordability.”

See what they did there? They’re not going to charge you more if you’re sick, but they must continue to charge you more if you’re older, live in a certain area, have a large or small family, or need certain benefits. They also fail to mention gender, and women pay a lot more for health care coverage than men – especially women of child-bearing age.

So the so-called concession actually gives nothing away. Richard commented on the letter and AHIP’s latest shell game in several spots. In the AP:

“If the goal is to make health care affordable, this concession does not go far enough,” said Richard Kirsch, campaign manager for Health Care for America Now. “It still allows insurers to charge much more if you are old.” His group, backed by unions and liberals, is trying to build support for sweeping health care changes.

In Politico:

Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, a liberal advocacy group, wasn’t sold on the proposal. He said the industry offer contains loopholes.

The insurers said in the letter that they would still charge different premiums based on such factors as age, place of residence, family size and benefits package.

“They are making as minor a concession as they can to have a monopoly on health care,” Kirsch said. “This shows how desperate they are to try to stop reform that significantly changes how they do business.”

In the LA Times:

Richard Kirsch, who heads Healthcare For Americans Now[sic], a leading consumer group in Washington, blasted the letter as cynical ploy.

“It’s a sign of their desperation,” said Kirsch. “They are still looking to find out how they can charge us as much as they want and have no competition from a public plan.”

Here’s a great summary write from CJR on the insurance industry. Trudy Lieberman both references Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik and is skeptical herself:

An extreme makeover for the insurance industry? Hiltzik, on the other hand, made clear that there was no makeover at all. His column dissected AHIP’s current positions compared to those it held in the past. After reading the trade association’s sixteen-page policy, Hiltzik concluded that “its version of ‘reform’ comprises the same wish list that the industry has been pushing for decades.”

UPDATE: Our official HCAN blogger Jason put up a great post on the latest insurance industry “concession.” I recommend giving it a read.