It’s worse than you think…

As part of a radio discussion this morning about health insurance options in the middle of a recession, I was joined by Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, who talked about their important new report, “Proposed Budget Cuts Come at a Time of Growing Need.”

We also were on with Phil Lebherz, director of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education, who explained some of the private options that people may have, even if they lose their jobs. Their website has some useful information. However, there is an ideology in their materials that I wish was more transparent.

Funded by Wellpoint (Blue Cross of California) with advisors like newly-elected Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, the Foundation attempts to minimize the health care crisis, suggesting the problem of the uninsured is simply one of consumer education, rather than one in need of signficant public policy reform. The spokesperson made a couple of swipes at “guaranteed issue” policies in other states, for example.

Also, while it is true that there is a significant population that is eligible but uninsured for public programs, their website wildly inflates the number–on the program today, I felt I needed to make the point that there are many people–even under the poverty level of $10,400 for an individual–who do *not* qualify for Medi-Cal or other public program coverage.

The website also characterizes that you aren’t “truly uninsured” if you are a family of four making $50,000, since apparently, a $12,000 family policy should somehow be affordable for you. Or if an insurance company like Wellpoint denies you coverage because you have a “pre-existing conditions,” which accounts for some of those “non-poor” uninsured.

I was concerned about some of the advice given this morning. When people leave (or are laid off from) an employer, they should strongly consider COBRA, even given the expensive cost. If you turn down the group coverage available under COBRA, then you are largely left powerless in the individual insurance market, where you can be denied for any or no reason. Many people who consider themselves healthy find themselves denied for a relatively minor “pre-existing conditions.” Also, while there might be cheaper premiums in the individual market, they often are not better deals: they typically have very expensive deductibles, cost-sharing, and have limited benefits.

While expensive, group coverage often provides a better value in terms of the actual coverage provided. Typically, the individual insurance market is the most expensive, least efficient method of getting coverage. COBRA can be expensive, but think twice before turning it down.

Either way, the radio program ultimately spotlighted many of the problems with the health system, and the callers to the program clearly recognized a strong need for health reform. So while people struggle with the current, limited options, we need to continue to press for those policy changes to give us additional coverage options and health security.

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