Ethics

Insurers' Bait and Switch

Author Wendell Potter is the former head of PR for CIGNAMore and more Americans are falling victim to one of the most insidious bait-and-switch schemes in U.S. history. As they do, health insurance executives and company shareholders are getting richer and richer. This industry-wide plot explains how health insurers have been able to reap record profits during the recent recession as the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured continue to swell.

It also explains why the insurance industry and its allies are pulling out all the stops to kill a measure in the California legislature that could protect state residents from losing their homes and being forced into bankruptcy if they get seriously sick or injured.

On June 2, the California Assembly passed AB 52, a bill that would give state regulators the authority to reject excessive health insurance rate increases. Similar legislation has been introduced in other state legislatures, but nowhere are the stakes higher than in California -- not only because AB 52 would allow the insurance commissioner to turn down requests for unjustifiably high rate hikes, but also because it would enable the commissioner to reject increases in deductibles as well.

Insurers Spend Big Fighting Regulations, Paying CEOs Huge Salaries

Nowhere are health insurers working harder to thwart reforms that could save consumers billions of dollars than in California. One measure they are especially determined to kill is a bill that would give state regulators the authority to reject rate increases that are excessive or discriminatory.

The California Assembly passed a bill to do just that earlier this month over the intense opposition of insurers, including the state's biggest supposedly nonprofit health plans: Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente.

Employment-Based Health Insurance Fails America

If you haven't gotten much of a raise lately, it's probably because the extra money that might have been put in your paycheck instead went to your health insurer if you are enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan.

Many Americans haven't seen a pay increase of any kind because their employers can't both increase their wages and continue offering decent health care coverage. It has become an either-or for people like Zeke Zalaski, a factory worker in Bristol, Connecticut, who hasn't had a raise in years.

The Decline of Employer-Based Health Insurance

The global consulting firm McKinsey & Company set off a firestorm when it released a report last week suggesting that 30 percent of U.S. businesses will stop offering health care benefits to their employees after most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect in 2014.

The White House was quick to challenge the validity of the report, noting that McKinsey has so far refused to provide any details of the methodology used to reach its conclusion. All McKinsey will say is that its report was based on a survey of 1,300 employers and "other proprietary research."

White House deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle, who previously headed the president's office of health care reform, called it an "outlier" and cited other studies predicting that few if any employers would drop coverage because of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Feingold urges Netroots Nation crowd to fight the special interests

Russ FeingoldMINNEAPOLIS — In his first-ever Netroots Nation appearance, former Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold asked the crowd to take back the Democratic Party and the U.S. government.

"I fear the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its identity," Feingold said, asking the Netroots crowd to redouble its efforts.

Feingold decried shady strategies such as Priorities USA Action, a Democratic Super PAC that does not disclose all of its donors, telling the audience "we can win without selling our soul" and urging transparency.

Much of Feingold's speech focused on his fight to overturn the Citizens United decision, which he referred to as "lawless."

"Speech doesn't corrupt," Feingold said. "Money corrupts, and money isn't speech."

Health Insurers Pump Your Premiums Into a Financial Black Hole

Money black holeEver wonder what happens to the premiums you pay for your health insurance?

You might be surprised to learn that more and more of the dollars you pay for coverage are being sucked into a kind of black hole.

It doesn't really disappear, of course. It just doesn't do you a bit of good -- unless, of course, you believe it is to your advantage that it ultimately winds up in the bank accounts of a few investors and insurance company executives, including those who have to power to deny coverage for potentially life-saving care.

Blue Shield of California's Fake Benevolence

Blue Shield of Calif. CEO Bruce BodakenAs the head of communications for two of the country's largest health insurers for almost 20 years, I recognize an orchestrated spin campaign when I see one. And boy, oh boy, did I see an award-winning one this week in San Francisco.

The supposedly nonprofit Blue Shield of California went to extraordinary lengths on Tuesday, June 7 to unveil its "bold move to address the health care affordability crisis" by pledging to limit its annual profit to no more than 2 percent of revenue. And not just going forward, mind you, but all the way back to 2010, when the nonprofit's profits were considerably more than 2 percent -- so much more that Blue Shield of California says it will refund $180 million to its policyholders.

Americans for Prosperity Posts Fake Eviction Notices on Detroit Homes

AFP Michigan's "eviction notice"The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been posting fake eviction notices on the doors of residents of a Detroit, Michigan neighborhood, frightening homeowners in a city with one of the country's highest foreclosure rates. AFP 's goal is to get people to oppose construction of a new bridge that would connect Detroit with Canada. Canada agreed to fund a loan to construct the bridge, to be called the Detroit River International Crossing. AFP argues that the bridge is "unwarranted" and a "boondoggle." Large capital letters near the top of AFP's flyer say "EVICTION NOTICE." The medium-sized print at the top says "This property is subject to seizure by the Michigan Department of Transportation." The fine print says the property in question could be seized if a bill approving the bridge is passed. The editorial editor of the Detroit Free Press called AFP's fake eviction notices "emotional terrorism." Scott Hagerstrom, state director of the Michigan chapter of AFP, refused to apologize for the flyer or for rattling Detroit residents. Hagerstrom said, "It was meant to startle people ... We wanted people to read it."

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Twitter the Winner in Weinergate

Twitter WeinerThe only winner to emerge from the "Weinergate" scandal is Twitter, which once again paraded its effectiveness at everything from bringing down dictators to engaging in political self-immolation. Twitter is truly a double-edged sword. It can be used for good things like facilitating communication after natural disasters, or it can facilitate disaster itself by amplifying the effects of poor human judgment. In the time it took to make a single stroke on a computer key and then lie about it, Anthony Weiner destroyed his credibility, damaged his marriage and his integrity, handed endless fodder to his political enemies and singlehandedly diverted attention from a huge number of truly important domestic and global issues, for example that the U.S. is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan while cutting desperately-needed programs and services here at home, or that an unprecedented three nuclear reactors experienced full meltdowns at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The Weinergate scandal shows that a little salacious piece of information sent out on Twitter has the tremendous power to wipe far more important news off the media map -- a realization that itself has huge implications when it comes to controlling what people see and hear in the mass media.

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