The nation’s largest union and professional organization of registered nurses, National Nurses United, today joined the national condemnation of Anthem Blue Cross for imposing rate hikes of up to 39 percent for Californians with individual policies, but said the outrage must “go beyond words to action to end insurance abuses once and for all.”
“Anthem’s disgraceful behavior may be particularly offensive, but it is not out of character for an industry engages systemically in price gouging and denial of care,” said NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN.
“Condemnation is well deserved, but not enough. We need stronger medicine to cure what ails our healthcare system by removing the ability of insurance companies to indiscriminately price people out of access to care, and routinely deny claims they don’t want to pay.
“The best way to achieve that goal would be expanding Medicare to cover everyone, which would retain our private delivery system, more effectively control healthcare costs, guarantee choice and access to care for everyone, and put patients, their families, and their doctors in charge of their care, not insurance bureaucrats,” Burger said.
For companies like Anthem skyrocketing price hikes and denials are highly profitable. Anthem’s parent corporation, Wellpoint, recorded record 2009 profits of $4.7 billion, nearly double its 2008 profits, with a five year total of $16.1 billion. It’s top five executives were paid more than $20 million in 2008. And during the debate on healthcare reform in California in 2007, it was reported that in the individual insurance market companies spend as little as 50% of premiums on direct healthcare.
While Congress remains stalled on healthcare reform, some states are moving ahead. Burger noted, for example, growing support for single payer bills in California, where SB 810 recently passed the State Senate, and Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee last weekend unanimously endorsed two single payer bills, HB 1660 and SB 400.
Anthem’s latest rate hike is expected to affect some 800,000 Californians, such as Jan Stephens, a patient whose story has been told before by NNU. Stephens says her premiums will rise in March to $980 a month, with a $1,500 deductible, from the current, already high monthly rate of $736.
Anthem was also one of six major California insurance companies which, NNU research uncovered last fall, deny more than one-fifth of all claims. For the first nine months of 2009, Anthem’s denial rate was 27 percent. One such patient is Kim Kutcher of Dana Point, Calif. In 2008, six days before Kutcher was scheduled to have special back surgery, Anthem Blue Cross denied authorization for the procedure as “investigational” even though the lumbar artificial disc she was to receive had FDA approval. At the time of denial, which she calls “insurance hell,” Kutcher had “already gone through pre-op testing, donated a unit of blood, had appointments with four physicians.” Kutcher paid $60,000 out of pocket for the operation and is still fighting Blue Cross.