THE BLOG
07/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Health Insurance Mafia Deserves a Good Screwing

Not so long ago, I lost my health insurance.

The coverage was provided through my small business, that is until the carrier (rhymes with Screw Costs) decided to triple the monthly premium completely at random, leaving me with a common ultimatum: either cancel the plan or spend myself out of business. So I canceled the plan.

Good timing, considering that while riding my bike last year I was hit by a car and, upon being hurled to the street, I fractured my T10 vertebra. (My auto insurance covered my medical expenses free and clear, and I'm gratefully back to riding 80 or so miles a week.)

Coupled with my wife's back surgery from the middle 1990s, though, there are currently two fairly serious preexisting conditions on our family medical records, and so now whenever I shop for health insurance, I'm either turned down or quoted a premium that amounts to a request for voluntary financial rape. There are an array of other craptastical tricks and awfulness dished out by the insurers, but those are the most common walls I run into.

My only other option is to abandon my career and take a job that provides health insurance. As happy as that might make some comment trolls, I'm not in a position to do that either. But even if I did, there aren't any guarantees that the insurer wouldn't deny coverage that I paid for, along with a mélange of various other screwings the health insurance industry routinely gets away with.

This story isn't unusual, unfortunately, though I doubt other stories too often involve ricocheting off of a moving vehicle onto hard pavement with nothing but a helmet and garish road cycling regalia to break the fall.

So needless to say, I'm anxiously anticipating the public health insurance option -- as long as it's not crapped up with triggers or trap doors.

Actually, "anticipating" doesn't suffice to define my mood right now. I need it. My family needs it. Because the private health insurance companies have essentially told me that either they want all of my money, or nothing. And if I were to acquiesce to their thievery, I could once again count on premiums randomly being jacked up and, as so many Americans have experienced, coverage being outright denied, all for the sake of profit margins, stock quotes and obscene executive salaries.

A government healthcare plan, on the other hand, would be specifically tailored for stories like mine, and it's my only real chance of having health insurance anytime soon.

In addition to putting the "insurance" back into "health insurance," the public plan would force the private insurers to figure out how to compete -- or face bankruptcy. How excellent would that be for a change? The health insurance companies under financial pressure brought on by a competitive entity that we own.

Honestly, I hope they choke on it. I can think of no other American industry that more closely resembles a criminal shakedown of the public than the health insurers.

Even calling it "insurance" is a sick joke. Insurance implies a guarantee, and no matter what we pay, there are never any guarantees. I propose replacing the word "insurance" with the word "maybe?" -- including the question mark -- as in "health maybe?" Maybe they'll pay when we get sick. Maybe they won't randomly hike our monthly premium by 30 percent. Maybe they'll cover our preexisting conditions without gouging us -- that is if they agree to cover us at all. Maybe they won't let our family members die after refusing coverage.

The entire business model of the health insurance industry is based around a basic truth: people have a natural will to live, and in many cases we'll go broke paying someone to prevent death. The cost of healthcare is so expensive -- in some cases conspiratorial by design -- that we need these other companies to step in and help us pay for it. That's the whole scam. Pay or die.

Consequently, the basic animalistic fear of pain and death coerces us to keep paying whatever we have to pay, and allows the health insurance companies total latitude to get away with their criminal enterprise. (It's a similar fear that keeps us hooked on a cocktail of prescription drugs even though the freakish excretory side effects are often worse than the ailments themselves.)

The public option is an escape hatch. A light in the tunnel. It's actual insurance and not some sort of twisted form of legalized Mafioso extortion.

The Republicans along with the several cowardly Democrats who oppose the public option, in addition to mostly being bought off by the dons who run the industry, are actually preventing competition when they otherwise claim to embrace it. They're preventing you from having a fair choice in this thing.

Competition is what capitalism is all about, yes? The spirit of competition mandates that the marketplace -- you and I -- have the flexibility to move towards the path of least resistance, thus competition is generated, prices are controlled, service improves and the companies that can't compete are killed off. If we don't like one form of crap on a stick, we can stop buying it in lieu of better, cheaper crap on a stick. Choice drives competition and competition drives the economy, right?

As it stands now, there are no choices so there's no real competition.

If we opt to bail on our insurance company because we think they're being unfair or generally screwing us, there are no guarantees the next place will be better or cheaper, or that they'll even have us. And what if we developed an injury or illness on the previous policy? So our tendency is to stay put or, like me, roll the dice.

We're very literally trapped and we have no leverage. We're effed coming and going. We're in a compromised, boxed-in, no win situation and the health insurance companies, along with the politicians they're buying off, know it. So they're exploiting our captivity (and our basic will to live) for profit and political gain.

Tell me again how this is an industry that needs to be defended and protected. Tell me how this isn't organized crime.

Ultimately, the public healthcare option has the potential to end the systematic screwing. It'll force la cosa nostra to compete -- to become more efficient and less criminally coercive. If they can't or if they refuse, then too goddamn bad. Or maybe they'll actually do the right thing and become better than the public option and everyone will want to buy in.

Yeah, that last thing won't happen. After all, there are obscene CEO paychecks to support.

* Ron Williams - Aetna - Total Compensation: $24,300,112.

* H. Edward Hanway - CIGNA - Total Compensation: $12,236,740.

* Angela Braly - WellPoint - Total Compensation: $9,844,212.

* Dale Wolf - Coventry Health Care - Total Compensation: $9,047,469.

* Michael Neidorff - Centene - Total Compensation: $8,774,483.

* James Carlson - AMERIGROUP - Total Compensation: $5,292,546.

* Michael McCallister - Humana - Total Compensation: $4,764,309.

* Jay Gellert - Health Net - Total Compensation: $4,425,355.

* Richard Barasch - Universal American - Total Compensation: $3,503,702.

* Stephen Hemsley - UnitedHealth Group - Total Compensation: $3,241,042.

These people are, of course, compensated based upon the potential profits they're able to generate for their respective shareholders. And those profits are generated both by charging ever-increasing premiums and by refusing to pay out. Put another way: screwing you. And, by the way, while they're screwing you they're locked into the recession-proof tobacco industry -- investing $4.5 billion dollars in a product that's been proven to kill you.

Seriously. Good people.

The health insurance companies and their guardians in Congress can't be allowed to win this one. The Obama administration is giving you and me -- our government, accountable to us -- a chance to compete with the health insurance crime families. We have to draw the line here. There can be no capitulation or compromise on public health insurance. More than any other issue on the table right now, this is about our lives and, in a very serious way, our human dignity. And at no other time in recent history have we had a similar such opportunity for victory in a system that is transparently designed to otherwise screw us.

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