Senate Finance Update; SickOfBlueCross Relaunch

HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

AS SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE STARTS TO MARK UP HEALTH REFORM, CALIFORNIANS PROTEST POLICIES/PRACTICES OF ANTHEM BLUE CROSS
* Senator Baucus Begins Marathon Sessions to Consider 500+ Amendments to His Proposal
* Health Reformers Protest State’s & Nation’s Biggest Insurer, Wellpoint/Anthem Blue Cross
* Wellpoint/Anthem a Major Opponent, But Its Practices Show Need for Health Reform
* http://www.sickofbluecross.com/ Relaunched to Spotlight Insurers’ Actions


* More Updates on
http://blog.health-access.org: AB1422 Signed to Prevent Children From Being Denied Healthy Families Coverage; The Outstanding #Health Reform Issues to Learn and Link About; HCAN on Colbert; New Census Figures to Fight Over; President Obama: It Could Happen to You; We are Number 37!; Hospital Fee Drama; Momentum for Health Reform;

* Follow Health Access California on Facebook at www.facebook.com/healthaccess and on Twitter, at @healthaccess, or www.twitter.com/healthaccess for quick updates on budget, bills, and federal health reform.


The debate over national health reform is heating up, with the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), beginning Tuesday to consider, or “mark-up,” its version of a health reform bill in marathon session through this week.

Consumer and community advocates are urging several amendments and changes to the proposal, including 1) increasing the financial subsidies for low- and moderate-income families to ensure that coverage is affordable for them, both in premiums and in out-of-pocket costs; 2) improving and changing the structure of the assessment on larger employers which don’t provide health coverage to their workers, to provide more security and stability for on-the-job benefits; and 3) including the choice of a public health insurance option for individual who do have to purchase coverage on their own, as a way to provide more choice and competition and to help bring down costs. Other key changes being sought include allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage with their own money and wages (as opposed to using federal funds), to better negotiating drug purchasing savings as to more fully cover seniors for prescriptions

Whatever amendments are taken or not, the health reform proposal is likely to evolve as it goes through the process. Any bill emerging from the Senate Finance Committee will need to be merged with its counterpart in from the Senate Health Committee, previously chaired by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. After such a proposal passes the full Senate, it would need to be reconciled with whatever the House of Representatives passes. Currently, all three House Committees have passed a more generous and ambitious bill, H.R.3200 in July. Only that final product, after going back to the Senate and House for floor votes, then will be able to go to President Obama’s desk.

So while health reform has never moved as far in the 40+ years since the passage of Medicare, there’s a long process to go, and many organizations and interests, from consumers and community groups, to insurance companies, will have many more opportunities to intervene.

PROTESTS OF WELLPOINT/ANTHEM BLUE CROSS: In that spirit, also on Tuesday, hundreds of customers of Anthem Blue Cross of California , a subsidiary of Wellpoint, protested with California Health Care for America Now partners, including Health Access California, California Partnership, California Labor Federation, California ACORN, MoveOn.org, and SEIU. The protests were held outside the insurance company’s offices in six locations in California, over 100 nationally. They included a rally of 300+ people in downtown Los Angeles and of 250+ people in downtown San Francisco .

In the current national health policy debate, Wellpoint, the largest insurer in the nationa and in California , has emerged as a principle opponent of health reform. Wellpoint’s subsidiary, Anthem Blue Cross of California, sent out communications to both its consumers and its employers with false and misleading attacks against H.R. 3200, the main health reform bill in the House of Representatives.

Health Access and other consumer groups made the point that Anthem Blue Cross of California is not just the main opposition to health reform; it’s the poster child for why we need reform in the first place. It’s their abusive practices that are the very reason for health reform. This soridid history of Anthem Blue Cross’s opposition to health reform, and anti-cosnumer protections, are being documents at a newly-relaunched website at http://www.sickofbluecross.com/.

The point of the actions across the nation was to point out that if big insurers profit from the status quo, consumers lose unless we have reform. Anthem Blue Cross has opposed comprehensive health reform in California in 2007, opposes specific bills on the Governor’s desk, and is now aggressively attacking the key legislation moving in Congress.

At these events, consumers and many community organizations rallied in support of the House bill, H.R. 3200, drafted by California committee chairs like Representatives George Miller, Henry Waxman, and Pete Stark, and supported by Health Care for America Now!, which would prohibit many of the anti-consumer practices that Anthem Blue Cross is known for, including rescinding coverage, denying people for pre-existing conditions, and providing inadequate benefits. The bill would also provide a public health insurance option as a choice to compete with private insurers like Anthem Blue Cross.

During the actions, HCAN and partners revealed that the health insurance companies are spending $641,000 a day to oppose reform because they profit by keeping the system exactly the way it is, In these actions, the advocates urged that company to stop it’s opposition to health reform, and its practices of those who deny claims; raise premiums, co-pays, and deductibles at will; reject patients based on pre-existing conditions; and refuse to cover the treatments our doctors prescribe.

The crowds gathered before noon at San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other locations, and demanded to see the company’s chief executive to ask her to sign the following pledge:

Stop Denying Our Care!

We are here to demand that CEO Angela Braly of WellPoint, parent company of Anthem Blue Cross of California who made $8.7 million last year to deny care to WellPoint/Anthem Blue Cross of California customers, agree to the following.

Effective immediately:

1 Anthem Blue Cross of California will not stand between a doctor and a patient when it comes to deciding what care that patient needs. No one at Anthem Blue Cross of California will substitute their judgment for the judgment of the patient’s physician in deciding if care is medically necessary.

2. Anthem Blue Cross of California will not deny coverage or raise rates for individuals or businesses based on a pre-existing medical condition, and will end arbitrary caps on payments for necessary medical care.

3. Anthem Blue Cross of California will terminate any policy or incentive that rewards employees financially or otherwise for denying care and rejecting claims.

4. Anthem Blue Cross of California will not use any resources – including members’ funds, employees, and facilities — to lobby against and oppose any aspect of the health reform proposals supported by President Obama and being considered by members of the United States Congress, including but not limited to a national public health insurance option available on day one.

Events in Los Angeles and San Francisco included testimony from many who have personal experience with Anthem Blue Cross of California’s anti-consumer practices, of having their insurance rescinded when they became sick, of having to fight in ongoing appeals to have prescribed medications covered, of finding their current coverage unaffordable and of being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

Other speakers included doctors and other community and organizational leaders, including California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski of San Francisco . The groups also leafleted passers-by, both to urge them to call their Senator, and to find out more about Anthem Blue Cross’ behavior at the re-launched website http://www.sickofbluecross.com/. The San Francisco event even featured a volunteer in a Sick of Blue Cross costume.

The Los Angeles event also featured state Assemblymember Hector De La Torre, highlighting bills now on the Governor’s desk opposed by Anthem Blue Cross of California.. These bills include his AB 2, to protect consumers against rescission, and will put an end to this shameful practice. Anthem Blue Cross was found to have the most number of rescissions, yet they oppose reform, both the pending state bill, but also the federal reform H.R. 3200, which would completely outlaw the practice.

In California, there were also events as Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Ana and San Diego and hundreds more across the country today, fed up customers and advocates for health care reform held protests and declared, “Big Insurance: Sick of It.” Flagship events in Minneapolis , Indianapolis , Philadelphia , Milwaukee , and Hartford drew thousands of protestors to health insurance company headquarters or to events where they could confront health insurance CEOs.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is a national grassroots campaign of more than 1100 organizations representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care we all can count on in 2009. We are doctors, nurses, community organizations, small business owners, faith-based groups, people of color, seniors, and children’s and women’s rights groups. Founded July 8, 2008, HCAN is the nation’s largest health care campaign fighting to win a guarantee of quality, affordable health care for all with the choice of a strong national public health insurance option in 2009.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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