WaPo’s Plug for Health Insurer Misses the Deadly Fine Print

The Washington Post (6/11/12) had a story by headlined “Largest Health Insurer to Keep Key Parts of Law Regardless of Court Ruling.” In the piece, reporter N.C. Aizenman relayed UnitedHealthcare’s announcement that even if the Obama healthcare law is struck down by the Supreme Court, the company “will keep in place several key consumer provisions”:

The company will continue to provide customers preventive healthcare services without co-payments or other out-of-pocket charges, allow parents to keep adult children up to age 26 on their plans, and maintain the more streamlined appeals process required by the law.

UnitedHealthcare would also continue to observe the law’s prohibitions on putting lifetime limits on insurance payouts and rescinding coverage after a member becomes ill, except in cases where a member intentionally lied on an insurance application.

The piece isn’t entirely a press release for the company; Aizenman notes that the law under Supreme Court review “includes several mandates that UnitedHealthcare did not pledge to continue complying with.” But the overall message is clear: The health insurance industry doesn’t need a law to make them do the right thing. How reassuring.

But if you turn to MichaelMoore.com (6/12/12), you find registered nurse and single-payer advocate Donna Smith explaining what that phrase “except in cases where a member intentionally lied on an insurance application” really means, citing the case of small-business owner Nathan Wilkes, whose son Thomas has hemophilia:

Just this week, as now 8-year-old Thomas was facing a health crisis and the Wilkes family was dealing with that crisis, Nathan got a letter from his insurance carrier, UnitedHealthcare. It told him that the insurance giant was auditing the company’s coverage and required additional documentations (tax forms, income statements, etc.) and that unless the documents were provided and found satisfactory, the business’ insurance coverage would be terminated July 1, 2012. While that was awful enough, Nathan then began hearing from the family’s medical providers that UnitedHealthcare went to all Thomas’ healthcare providers and informed those providers that the family’s coverage would be cancelled on July 1.

Imagine that. Your child is hospitalized. Your insurance company doesn’t like that your child is hospitalized and needing care—again. So your insurance company begins to find ways to terminate your coverage for good—like trying to find that one piece of documentation on your application for coverage or your company’s application for coverage that fits their warning as stated in the WP article, “except in cases where a member intentionally lied on an insurance application.”

No, UnitedHealthcare does not want to do the right thing; like other for-profit corporations, they are legally forbidden to try to do the right thing if that would mean smaller profits for their investors. This is perhaps something that is hard to bear in mind when you’re a reporter for an outlet owned by a for-profit corporation yourself.