Advocates for more government control over health care, including President Obama, cite cases where people have been abused by private health insurance companies. We ought to be sure that these cases are real, and we need to be aware of the scope of the problem, before we assign weight to these arguments.
Wall Street Journal reporting (Fact-Checking the President on Health Insurance: His tales of abuse don’t stand scrutiny, September 14, 2009) provides some vitally important information in the health care debate.
As it turns out, the facts underlying two cases that President Obama cited in his address to Congress last week are quite different from what the president wants us to believe.
In one case, the president said this in his speech: “One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn’t reported gallstones that he didn’t even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it.”
Here’s the Wall Street Journal reporting on this same case: “Although the president has used this example previously, his conclusion is contradicted by the transcript of a June 16 hearing on industry practices before the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigation of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The deceased’s sister testified that the insurer reinstated her brother’s coverage following intervention by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. She testified that her brother received a prescribed stem-cell transplant within the desired three- to four-week ‘window of opportunity’ from ‘one of the most renowned doctors in the whole world on the specific routine,’ that the procedure ‘was extremely successful,’ and that ‘it extended his life nearly three and a half years.’”
In the second case, the president said this: “Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne.”
The Journal reporting: “The woman’s testimony at the June 16 hearing confirms that her surgery was delayed several months. It also suggests that the dermatologist’s chart may have described her skin condition as precancerous, that the insurer also took issue with an apparent failure to disclose an earlier problem with an irregular heartbeat, and that she knowingly underreported her weight on the application.”
Did President Obama lie about these cases? Or is he simply misinformed, and if so, who is feeding him misinformation?
A second issue is the number of cases of rescission. That’s where an insurer cancels a policy, leading to stories like the two above. The number of cases identified by Congressional staff analysis is 20,000 over a five-year period. This may be evidence of a small problem that needs some gentle reform. A wholesale government intervention is not justified by these cases.