Original Link: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/health-care-reform/2009/08/hhs_insurance_companies_encour.html
By David S. Hilzenrath
You might have known that insurers can deny health coverage based on preexisting medical conditions, but here’s something else to worry about: They can take away the coverage you thought you had when actually need it, the government says.
The Department of Health and Human Services put a spotlight on that practice Tuesday in its continuing campaign to build support for an overhaul of health insurance.
“When a person is diagnosed with an expensive condition such as cancer, some insurance companies review his/her initial health status questionnaire,” the HHS said in a posting at HealthReform.Gov. In most states, insurance companies can retroactively cancel individuals' policies if any condition was not disclosed when the policy was obtained, "even if the medical condition is unrelated, and even if the person was not aware of the condition at the time.”
“Coverage can also be revoked for all members of a family, even if only one family member failed to disclose a medical condition,” HHS said.
The department cited recent research by the staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which found that three large insurers rescinded almost 20,000 policies over five years, saving $300 million in medical claims.
At least one insurer included such savings in an employee performance evaluation.
“Simply put, these insurance company employees are encouraged to revoke sick people’s health coverage," HHS said
The research compiled recently for a House hearing included more detail.
WellPoint and Assurant told the committee that they automatically investigate the medical records of every policyholder with certain conditions, including leukemia, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, and becoming pregnant with twins, the committee staff wrote.
In November 2006, after a Texas resident was found to have a lump in her breast, Wellpoint investigated her medical history and concluded that she had been diagnosed previously with osteoporosis. The insurer rescinded her policy and refused to pay for treatment of the lump, the committee staff wrote.
Today’s HHS post, which draws on a variety of studies going back as far as 2001, shows how the Obama administration is trying to give people reasons to support an overhaul of health care even if they are satisfied with their existing coverage. It also reflects a stepped-up focus on health insurers, which are increasingly being cast as bogeymen in the debate.
Under the current system, something as relatively simple as seasonal sneezing can jeopardize your financial security, HHS argues, citing a 2001 study for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Even when offering coverage, insurers can exclude whole categories of illnesses related to a preexisting condition. For example, someone with a preexisting condition of hay fever could have any respiratory system disease – such as bronchitis or pneumonia – excluded from coverage,” HHS said.