Health

Paying for Cancer Treatment for Children in America with a Car Wash, Bake Sale and Fish Fry

Wendell Potter, CMD Fellow and former head of PR for CIGNA"It shouldn't be this way," read the subject line of an email I received Friday morning from a conservative friend and fellow Southerner. "People shouldn't have to beg for money to pay for medical care."

At first, I thought he was referring to my column last week in which I wrote about the fundraising effort to cover the bills, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, that the husband of Canadian skier Sarah Burke is now facing. Burke died on January 19, nine days after sustaining severe head injuries in a skiing accident in Park City, Utah. I noted that had the accident occurred in Burke's native Canada, which has a system of universal coverage, the fundraiser would not have been necessary.

But my friend was not writing about Sarah Burke. He wanted to alert me to another fundraiser, this one on Alabama's Gulf Coast, to help pay for the mounting medical expenses for a beautiful 13-year-old girl fighting for her life at USA Children's & Women's Hospital in Mobile, Alabama.

The High Cost of Allowing Health Insurers To Continue Keeping Us In The Dark

Walking in the darkIn his State of the Union address, President Obama said very little about health care reform, but what he did say was a reminder of how tight a grip the insurance industry has on the U.S. health care system -- and will continue to have if the Affordable Care Act is not implemented as Congress intended. And it is largely up to the President to make sure that it is.

"I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage or charge women more than men," he said.

That comment drew applause, although certainly not from the insurance industry’s friends in Congress, who continue to call for gutting the law. That’s because when and if it’s fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will make many of the most egregious practices of insurers a thing of the past. Weakening or stripping out the consumer protections in the law that insurance companies despise would make executives and shareholders of those companies very happy, not to mention much richer in the years to come.

Park City Tragedy Underscores Tragedy of the U.S. Health Care System -- for Both Canadians and Americans

The journey I embarked on when I made the decision to leave a successful career in the health insurance business was a spiritual one. I can trace the decision to a true epiphany, to the very moment I saw hundreds of people standing, soaking wet, in long, slow-moving lines, waiting to get medical care that was being provided in animal stalls at a fairground in Wise County, Virginia.

When Medicare Isn't Medicare

Let's say you have a Ford and decide to replace everything under the hood with Hyundai parts, including the engine and transmission. Could you still honestly market your car as a Ford?

That question gets at the heart of the controversy over who is being more forthright about GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to "save" Medicare, Republicans or Democrats.

Profit, risk, lossIf you overhaul the Medicare system like you did your Ford and tell the public it's still Medicare, are you doing so honestly?

The Teenager Who Changed My Life

In remembrance of Nataline SarkisyanIt was four years ago today that I received a phone call from a Los Angeles TV reporter that would change my life, although I certainly didn't realize it at the time.

The reporter said she had been told that CIGNA, the big health insurer I worked for back then, was refusing to pay for a liver transplant for a 17-year-old girl, even though her doctors at UCLA believed it would save her life and her family's policy covered transplants.

I didn't pay much attention to the call at first, because as chief spokesman for the company, I had received many calls over the years from reporters seeking comment about benefit denials. We took them seriously, but usually didn't have to do more than tell the inquiring reporters we couldn't comment substantively because of patient confidentiality restrictions. If pressed, we'd email a statement to the reporter briefly noting that we covered procedures deemed medically necessary and that patients and their doctors could appeal a denial if they disagreed with a coverage decision.

Will "Obamacare" Force Americans to Buy Junk Health Insurance in 2014?

The money that patients' rights advocates have to spend trying to convince the Obama administration that Americans should have decent health care benefits pales in comparison to the boatloads of cash insurers and their corporate allies have on hand to do largely the opposite. But at least the advocates are now in the game.

Bad faith insurance companiesLast week a broad coalition of patient-focused groups launched its "I Am Essential" campaign in an effort to make sure that when all of us have to buy health insurance in 2014, we will be getting good value.

Rick Perry's Big Health Care "Oops"

I did exactly what the doctor told me to do. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling a bit better. Maybe even a little worse.

Last week, Dr. Michael C. Burgess, tweeted this directive: "Mark your calendars: Rick Perry will join Health Caucus' Thought Leaders Series next Wednesday, December 7 @ 5 p.m."

Texas Governor Rick PerryEager to hear what thought leadership the Texas governor and presidential candidate would be imparting, I marked my calendar as Dr. Burgess prescribed. Imagine my dismay when I learned yesterday morning that Perry would be sharing his thoughts behind closed doors. The media and public, it turns out, had been disinvited.

Insurers Use PR Playbook to Keep Us in the Dark About Health Insurance

If you wonder why the health insurance industry has to set up front groups and secretly funnel cash to industry-funded coalitions to influence public policy, take a look at the most recent results of the Kaiser Family Foundation's (KFF) monthly Health Tracking Poll.

Screaming infantIn its November poll, KFF added a few new survey questions to find out exactly which parts of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare are the most popular and which are the least popular. Insurers were no doubt annoyed to see that the provision of the law they want most -- the requirement that all of us will have to buy coverage from them if we're not eligible for a public program like Medicare -- continues to be the single most hated part of the law. More than 60 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of that mandate.

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