Tags: Coronavirus | congress | covid | health insurers

Congress Needs to Hold Health Insurers Accountable

drawing of giant clipboard with health insurance written on it with a woman sitting on top
(Cat Vec/Dreamstime)

By    |   Friday, 24 July 2020 02:01 PM

Seeing so many Americans spring to action during the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite inspiring, almost reminiscent of the spirit of service that swept through the country in the aftermath of 9/11.

Our nation's health care workers, whose everyday heroism too often goes unnoticed under normal circumstances, have worked tirelessly to treat those stricken with the virus – in many cases leaving their families and children for weeks on end.

But while the pandemic has brought out the best in the American health care system, it has also exposed the underbelly of greed and rent-seeking that interferes with the relationship between providers and patients – namely, the naked opportunism by major insurance companies, who have abandoned even the appearance of probity.

It's no coincidence that UnitedHealthcare is now boasting of its most profitable quarter in its history.

In April, the industry seized on the chaos to advance its legislative agenda, pushing for rule changes that would effectively limit what they would have to pay to providers and hospitals under the current strain. The rule changes favored by insurers would lower pay for emergency-room doctors by an average of up to 20%, according to the Congressional Budget Office, because it would give insurers increased negotiating leverage.

The health care industry has spent more money in lobbying in the first quarter of 2020 than in any quarter in recent years.

That effort appears to have hit a wall, fortunately, and insurers were sent packing.

Now, though, considering the growing number of reports that have emerged about insurers' bad behavior, Congress must call insurance companies back to Capitol Hill. To ensure that we are prepared for the next public health crisis – or the potential for a second wave – lawmakers must bring insurance companies in to testify about their COVID-19 response.

There have been reports that many insurers are refusing to cover costs for COVID-related tests. Insurers are also being accused of constantly changing plans, leaving patients and doctors unsure of what is actually covered.

For some health care providers, the tactics being used by insurers are not new. In February, United Healthcare abruptly cancelled a contract with a major provider network over a pricing dispute. Consolidating and eliminating coverage networks have plagued Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Georgia and elsewhere.

But being further squeezed by insurers during a pandemic? How low will these companies go in pursuit of profits?

And while the rest of the nation is indebting itself with aid packages, health insurance companies are planning large premium increases in 2021, some as high as 40%.

This can't go on – there has to be a reckoning. While insurers see COVID as a chance to make a long-term money grab, Congress can capitalize on the pandemic to finally hold insurance companies' feet to the fire.

Hold hearings that grill the heads of UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Cigna into accountability for their breaches of contract with the clients and their mishandling of the public health.

We can't just let Hollywood call insurance companies bad guys anymore, we need Congress to do it, too.

Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's reports — More Here.

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Considering the growing number of reports that have emerged about insurers' bad behavior, Congress must call insurance companies back to Capitol Hill.
congress, covid, health insurers
Friday, 24 July 2020 02:01 PM
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