The Common Good

I Was Wrong. The Insurance Company Was Evil.

I was wrong. In my recent post, "Evil Insurance Company or Evil Health-Care System?" I argued that the villain in an obvious case of injustice -- a denial of service to spinal muscular atrophy sufferer Ian Pearl -- is not the insurance company, but the U.S. health-care system itself.

I still believe that the for-profit U.S. health-care system is a villain in Mr. Pearl's case (and in many other cases), because such injustices happen with regularity when health care is made a source of profit. However, I now understand that the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America grossly misbehaved, even by the lax standards of the health insurance industry, and should not be excused for any reason. The article I cited pointed out their misdeeds, and I should have paid more attention. The company's malfeasance became much clearer to me when Mr. Pearl's brother sent me this comment. It is attached to my original post, but I'm also including it here so that more people will see it.

Matthew Pearl said...

Ian is my brother. Thank you for including a link to the story. I'd like to explain, though, why the story is far more shocking than your post recognizes. This actually is unprecedented. Insurance companies are not allowed to identify an individual who is sick or disabled and drop him or her in order to increase their profit. That would be discrimination and illegal. So Guardian, instead, dropped the entire "plan design" for everyone who had it, doing an end-around the law. Not only that, our lawsuit uncovered documents -- now public, now published in the article you link to -- showing the executives planning a "hit list" of which individuals to target based on how much their health care costs. We're talking people with serious illnesses and diseases. They referred to my brother Ian and those like him as the "dogs" of the group they had to "get rid of" and "train wrecks." This was not the beginning. They had sent private investigators for years to try to find that my dad's business was not a real one, or some other basis of cancellation -- which of course they didn't. They did this to the other "dogs," too: people who are paralyzed, have MS, cancer, and other critical diseases. The truth? They thought Ian would die a long time ago. So did the doctors. So instead they pulled this. And in contrast to what you generously assume, they were still profiting in their small business division -- big profits. At the time of this plan withdrawal, Guardian CEO Dennis J. Manning boasted that it had capital of $4.3 billion, net income of $437 million, and record shareholder dividends.

They're either an insurance company or they're not.

For those who want to help do something about this, please check the Facebook group I just started (click here).

Thank you again, LaVonne, for sharing the story.

You're welcome, Matthew. I have joined your Facebook group ("Help Ian Pearl show insurers he is not a dog") and encourage readers to join too. Guardian Life needs to be held accountable, and people thinking about health-care reform need to be aware of how low some companies will stoop.

Here's the big question: do all for-profit insurance companies behave as miserably as Guardian Life did?

In a just-posted article, "I am not a dog," Ian Pearls tells his story. He says:

I know firsthand that America's health-care system has the capacity to provide incomparable, life-saving care. But I am living proof that insurance-company "death squads" meeting behind closed doors routinely make life-sustaining benefits vanish. Read more

Several months ago former insurance executive Wendell Potter began speaking out about how one of America's largest insurance companies, Cigna, treats its clients. After interviewing Potter, Bill Moyers said:

Looking back over his long career, Potter sees an industry corrupted by Wall Street expectations and greed. According to Potter, insurers have every incentive to deny coverage -- every dollar they don't pay out to a claim is a dollar they can add to their profits, and Wall Street investors demand they pay out less every year. Under these conditions, Potter says, "You don't think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you're going to meet Wall Street's expectations."

Click here to read Moyers' article, see the interview, or link to Potter's congressional testimony.

Clearly the big health-care insurers don't want any meaningful reforms. Click here to read about how Edward Hanway, Cigna's CEO, is trying to "use his corporate connections to orchestrate the defeat of real health-care reform."

It may indeed be that Cigna and Guardian Life and lot of other for-profit insurance companies are simply doing what business has to do in order to reward its executives and stockholders. I was wrong to say that such callous behavior is not evil, and I apologize. It is evil whenever an individual, or a company, or an entire health-care system puts profits above human beings. Come on, America. We can do better than this.

portrait-lavonne-neffLaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

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