"Occupy Wall Street" Should Protest Wall Street Takeover of Health Care

The lobbyists for U.S. health insurers surely have to be feeling a little uneasy knowing that thousands of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who have been marching and protesting in Washington as well as New York and other cities might target them in the days ahead. After all, the headquarters of the insurers' biggest lobbying and PR group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., is just blocks away from Freedom Plaza, where the demonstrators have set up camp -- and problems with health insurers appear to be near the top of the list of protesters' concerns.

Health care deniedHealth Care for America Now, an umbrella advocacy group that played a key role in the health care reform debate, last week analyzed the 546 comments that had been posted by then on the "We are the 99 percent" Tumblr site. It found that 262 of the comments mention such problems as getting denials for doctor-ordered care from their insurance companies and having to forego treatment because of hefty out-of-pocket costs.

In my book, Deadly Spin, I wrote about how the "Wall Street takeover" of the American health care system has created many of the problems mentioned in the Tumblr site. I also described how AHIP offices have often been Command Central for developing and implementing coordinated efforts to derail health care reform efforts in the past, and how the organization helped shape major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which Congress passed last year.

Over the past few years, many of the largest health insurance firms have converted from nonprofit to for-profit status, and have been acquired by huge corporations whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, more than one-third of all Americans are enrolled in a health benefit plan owned and operated by just five large insurers -- a group that last year hauled in nearly $12 billion in profits. These companies have grown so big and powerful that they now often determine who has access to affordable care and who doesn't. Their business practices, condoned by investors and Wall Street analysts alike, have contributed to the growing number of Americans without health insurance -- more than 50 million of us at last count.

I worked for two of those large companies, Humana and CIGNA, during my nearly 20 years in the insurance industry, and I participated in many strategy meetings at AHIP's offices in Washington where plans were hatched to influence public policy.

Obama Administration Caves, Sides with Insurers

I'm one of 47 million Americans without health insuranceI am now watching how AHIP is getting Obama administration officials to write the regulations required by the Affordable Care Act in ways that benefit insurance companies more than consumers. And I have talked to administration officials who have quit their jobs in disgust as the White House has repeatedly sided with insurers rather than consumer advocates, as important regulations were nearing completion.

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Here's an example. Earlier this summer, the administration announced rules pertaining to new rights we supposedly have now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, to appeal decisions made by insurers that don't go our way. When the Department of Health and Human Services quietly released the regulations in late June, consumer advocates realized that insurers had, for all practical purposes, written them.

As Sabrina Corlette of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute wrote, the administration narrowed the range of issues consumers can appeal, gave insurers up to 72 hours, rather than 24 hours, to made decisions on emergency care claims and weakened a provision requiring health plans to provide enrollees with information about their appeal rights in understandable language. Administration officials also cut in half the number of days patients have for appeals, and allowed insurers to frequently choose their own "judge and jury" when their enrollees request an external review.

Author Wendell Potter, former head of PR for CIGNAJust last week, AHIP's muscle was on display when the Institutes of Medicine released guidelines for the Obama administration to follow in establishing the "essential benefits package" that all health plans will have to offer on the health care exchanges, or insurance marketplaces, beginning in 2014.

In January, an AHIP executive warned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) about making the benefits package too "rich." Insurers want the package to be as skinny as possible, which will enable them to continue selling plans that, in many cases, are inadequate for many peoples' needs.

The IOM's recommendation is almost exactly what AHIP suggested.

So if the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want to show up in front of the offices of some of the most important and influential people in Washington, whose strings are pulled by a handful of people on Wall Street, they will not want to miss 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Trust me on this.

Comments

As someone who has been abused by the system in a most horrific way I could not agree more. I was ill for many years with a very painful disease. Being very much into natural healing I tried to treat the pain myself for several years naturally. When I could not and it got worse I decided to go to a doctor and at least get help with managing my pain as it was becoming unbearable. I had no insurance but was certainly not poor by any means. Little did I know I would be REFUSED by every doctor I contacted as they required insurance OR literally thousands up front to start testing. And MRI alone was over 5 grand. I could not do that and none would take payments. Finally, bedridden and suicidal I learned I could order prescription pain meds online, which I did, and got my life back for the first time in years. I was able to start back to college, work my home business and function in general. Until last November 2010 when a 20 man SWAT team with automatic rifles broke down my door and took me away to jail in handcuffs. All for less than a months worth of pain meds, which had a doctor given me, would have been a non issue. In January I was convicted as a felon... with NO previous record. I'm a typical 52, a mother, grandmother, wife of 34 years, author, active voter (though no more of course)... Doing something like this to a citizen is unconscionable. The ramifications of our health care system are far reaching and beyond cruel. I'm doing what I can to raise awareness... I've created a web site with info... wrote a book... and will continue to speak out against these abuses. Nancy Rector Author of "A Painful Truth - The Entrapment of America's Sick" www.apainfultruth.com

Thank you!!!! The rest of us need you as our voice. Why let our government pass/create health-care "reform" that only reforms more profits for insurance companies? Why aren't there reforms that inspect the profits and practices of medical insurers and prescription drug companies? Please somehow use the current protests,and utube or twitter to get this heard! Then protest the white house... where the "buck stops here", as Obama once espoused during his campaign. Thanks for sharing and may you be blessed with help and better health.

Never seen any blog containing so much reference on mental health care. It's surely very help full.