The President called for an up or down vote on health care
reform, but I can say from my own experience this week working with Blue
Cross patients, who are part of Consumer Watchdog’s lawsuit against the company, that the public
has already cast its vote. Go for it, now!
At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, at the
California Nurses Association headquarters in Oakland Tuesday, I had a profound
sense that Anthem Blue Cross’s big mistake, its sudden massive premium hikes on beleaguered Californians,
had given finally reformers the opportunity we have been missing for two
The insurer’s arrogance, the visceral bi-partisan
repudiation its spawned, and the clamoring of the public and opinion for real
action is catalyzing a real movement for change. It’s human, it’s honest, and
it won’t go away because its not built on a Washington policy paper, but authentic anger
at how insurance companies, on a moment’s notice, can change and ruin
lives. Where denials of coverage by health insurers
strike only the sick, a relative few, premium increases hit home across the board.
Mary Feller, who pays more for health insurance than for her
mortgage, deeply moved the room of nurses and reporters at the press
conference, as well as viewers of the evening news. She talked from the heart about
the great hardship endured by her family and her 26 year old daughter, who is
recovering from cancer. Feller is
a lead plaintiff in our case over Blue Cross’s shutting down of long-time
policies without offering comparable benefits. The lawsuit alleges Blue Cross violated California law when
it tried to force patients into policies with lower benefits and higher
deductibles, just before massively raising their premiums. The law says insurers have to offer a
comparable policy when closing existing ones.
Longtime KTVU consumer reporter Tom Vacar put it to the
nurses and us clearly. Are you prepared to file a ballot measure regulating
health insurer premiums the way auto and home insurance premiums are under Prop
103? Nurses leaders, long time and
staunch advocates of single payer, were so moved by the plight of Blue Cross
patients, and by Feller, that they
acknowledged something had to be done now, because people are dying.
The California legislature, which has twice rejected
requiring health insurers to get prior approval before raising premiums, may
yet act before summer on such a proposal.
Governor Schwarzenegger may even sign such a bill. Our lawsuit has a
very good chance of succeeding sooner rather than later given the spotlight on
this issue. Congress could give the President what he wants, including power
for the executive branch to step in and stop unreasonable premium increases
when the state government doesn’t. And that’s just the beginning.
It has to
be. If Congress tells Americans
that they must buy individual health insurance policies, or face a tax penalty,
then Congress and the states are going to have to fix everything that’s the
matter with health insurance or offer a public alternative to the private
market. That’s when the fun really
starts and real answers to what ails American health care will be found.