Tonik or Snake Oil?

My colleague Hanh’s post about the 22-year old restaurant worker who spoke at the Assembly Republican press conference on health reform has gotten some attention, on blogs such as the California Progress Report and Working Californians and others.

It’s an important story: Here’s a young woman who wants to be insured (so much for the “young immortal” myth), but has barriers in her way. She doesn’t get health coverage at the job (and thus would be helped by some standard for employer-based coverage). To get coverage, she has no other choice but to go into the open market, and her broker steers her to Tonik, a Blue Cross product. You can find out more about the product at the marketing website, here:

It is a controversial product. It markets to young, healthy people, has aggressive underwriting to weed out anybody who might be sick, offers them a high deductible plan with skimpy benefits. Blue Cross gets to collect premiums without paying out very much in health care services. It’s a great deal for them, but what about for the young consumer? Are they truly getting value for their dollar? When he was Insurance Commissioner, Lt. Gov. Garamendi spotlighted the plan for criticism in his 2005 report, “Priced Out: Health Care in California.” On page 27, he talked about the exclusion of maternity coverage, and specifically mentioned that it would be “predictable” that these premium-paying people would end up on Medi-Cal or Access to Infants and Mothers (AIM):

So the most likely reason that a 22-year old woman might visit a hospital–pregnancy–won’t be covered by this plan. (It seems she would benefit from a minimum benefit standard.)

This plan is so silly it was featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I wish I could link to the Ed Helms segment, but copyright issues have taken it off the Internet. It makes fun of an attempt of a big insurance company to clumsily cater to young people–but also makes an important point about why young people are–or are not–uninsured.
It had the best health care policy chart that I have ever seen, which indicated the reasons that young people are uninsured. One half of the pie chart read “TOO POOR”; the other half read “TOO SICK”–a short ways to talk about “pre-existing conditions.” A small sliver in the middle simply read, “TOO EXTREME”–the apparent target audience for this product.
It ‘s both silly and sad at the same time.
Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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