The Los Angeles Times ran an article December 31st headlined, “Healthy? Insurers don’t buy it”. The article features the plight of Scott Svonkin, who chairs the Los Angeles County Commission on Insurance. An active 40-year old who describes himself as being in great health, he was denied individual health insurance coverage by Blue Cross of California, Blue Shield of California and PacifiCare. Svonkin has a history of asthma, but he says it’s now under control.
The article describes a real and serious problem: some people cannot buy individual medical insurance from non-government health insurers at any price. These insurers review their medical history and decline to accept them for coverage. I’ll write more on the “uninsurables” in another post, but what amazed me about the article is that the reporter, Lisa Girion, who normally does a thorough job, completely missed a key point concerning the nature of health insurance.
So I wrote a Letter to the Editor to the Times. I don’t expect to see it published there, but, hey, I have a blog. So here it is:
“Concerning, Healthy? Insurers don’t buy it — December 31, 2006
The “uninsurable” problem your article describes is real. But your use of Scott Svonkin’s situation doesn’t make the case well. He says he’s “healthy as a horse.” Yet he’s taking medication retailing for $1,200 a year. Maybe there’s another standard used for measuring the health of horses, but most people would say someone who has $1,200 in medical costs — before they get the flu or sprain an ankle — is in less than perfect health. Mr. Svonkin says insurers “are missing the whole point about assuming some risk.” But in his case there was no risk — only the certainty of a $1,200 bill. It’s the equivalent of someone shopping for home insurance announcing they’re scheduled to burn down their garage next month. I doubt if there’d be many takers.”
The article successfully points out a serious problems with today’s system. It also unintentionally highlights the critical need to define the role of health insurance. Is it insurance which is meant to protect against risk? Or is it a financing tool for paying known costs. The LA Times article, unfortunately, blurred the distinction doing a disservice to its readers and the public debate on health insurance reform.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?