MK 354 Spring 2010

April 26, 2010

blog 10: health insurance taken from breast cancer patients?

Filed under: blog #10, Uncategorized — marissagkelley @ 10:18 am

Recently, a significant amount of celebration and controversy has surrounded the passing of the new universal health care bill. But in an April 22 Reuters report, a new controversy has come to light. According to Reuters, WellPoint, the largest U.S. health insurer by enrollment, had targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with intent to cancel their policies. The process involved using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted patients recently diagnosed with breast cancer, among other conditions.

In response to these allegations, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to the CEO of WellPoint saying, “I urge you to immediately cease these practices and abandon your efforts to rescind health insurance coverage from patients who need it most.” Sebelius goes on to refer to WellPoint’s practices as “deplorable” and “unconscionable”.

So what did WellPoint have to say for itself? CEO Angela Braly claims that the Reuters report grossly misrepresented the company’s efforts to help patients with life threatening illnesses such as breast cancer. She claims that the company uses software to scan diagnostic codes for conditions that patients would likely have known about when they applied for insurance, but insisted it does not single out women with breast cancer. Whether or not this explanation is true, Reuters stood by their original story and WellPoint shares dropped .7 percent on Friday after the story was released.

In this case, the blurred line between the human condition and politics repulses me. Isn’t it true that a nation of people should be able to trust their government with, at the very least, their lives? I compare the insurance giant WellPoint to government because it is in a position of great power that has control over the lives of thousands of people. This position should not be taken lightly, and if WellPoint is responsible for using breast cancer against their customers, then it should be publicly punished.

Although the universal health insurance bill will render this argument unnecessary (the bill makes rescinding insurance illegal), as a matter of principle it is worth bringing WellPoint to justice. As a collective people, we have a responsibility to uphold certain principles that defend our basic rights. Therefore, as a people, we should hold WellPoint accountable for their actions.

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