CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The opponents of health reform have been obsessed recently with cancellations of health insurance policies in what is called the individual health insurance market.
The president has had to apologize to the American people because he promised that health reform would let them keep their health insurance policies if they liked them. The health policy wonks who advise the president probably never thought that anyone with an individual policy wouldn't be first in line to cancel their individual policy and sign up for a much superior product in the reformed insurance marketplace.
It pained me to hear the president apologize for a health insurance market that is a failure -- a market where people spend a lot of money and get precious little in return.
What is not well understood by the press and those who buy policies in the individual market is that the market has been in big trouble and ready to implode for a number of years. If you ever bought a health insurance policy in the individual market and then got sick or needed to use services in any way, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Most of the folks who are upset about cancellations of their policies in this market have probably not filed any big claims and don't know that the policy they hold does not really provide them with any real protection. I have often advised my friends that they would be better off setting their money on fire than using it to buy a policy in the individual market. At least by setting their money on fire, they would get some heat. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. But not much. For years, no one has talked about this market failure where insurers make money by hiring high-priced actuaries, who can help them figure out how to avoid risk.
I've had my own experiences with the individual and small group market. Some years ago, I became the executive director of a community health center in Western Maryland. One of my first duties was to buy a new small group health insurance policy for the staff. We had the money to pay for coverage, but no one would insure us because we had several older women on staff with a variety of common chronic conditions. As a small medical practice with older workers we were "red lined" by every company where we applied.
My grandson has a pre-existing condition that causes life-threatening swelling, which sometimes occurs as a result of exercise and other times just happens and no one knows why. He cannot buy a good policy because of his condition. The policy he holds has never paid a dime of his emergency medical care.
I have another relative who is a small business owner and has an inherited genetic condition. She has been terrified that she will need medical care sometime in her life and may lose all she has worked for because no one will insure her in the current marketplace.