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Protecting Families From McCain's Broken Health Care Plan

Posted: 09/18/08 01:02 AM ET

Lost in the campaign silly season of talking heads debating lipstick, Hockey Moms and Tina Fey's latest sketch on Saturday Night Live is one of the most crucial issues of this election year: the future of America's health care.

On Tuesday, a group of health experts released a study in the prominent policy journal Health Affairs which showed that under Senator McCain and Governor Palin's health care proposal, millions of Americans will be forced from employer-based health insurance into individual and family plans - the kind you or I can purchase directly from insurance companies.

Let me tell you about individual and family plans.

As the City of Los Angeles' chief prosecutor, I have sued HealthNet, Blue Cross and Blue Shield for a practice that - in the intentionally opaque parlance of the insurance industry - is called "post-claims underwriting."

A better term for it might be "a shell game."

Most Americans think of health insurance as just that: insurance. We pay our premiums when we're healthy so we'll have guaranteed coverage when we're sick.

But these huge corporations think of health insurance as something entirely different: pure profit! They'll gladly cash your premium checks when you're healthy. But if you get sick, they'll find a way to cancel your coverage, and abandon you in potentially your darkest hour.

In California, Blue Shield has already canceled coverage for more than 850 sick policyholders, HealthNet has canceled more than 1,600 policies, and Blue Cross has canceled more than 6,000 policies.

Unlike employer-provided group plans -- in which enrollees are automatically accepted and therefore almost never cancelled when they get sick -- when you boil it down, no American with an individual or family plan actually has a guarantee of health insurance.

In exchange for their premiums, policyholders receive an official-looking card, and maybe a few doctor visits for a check-up or a minor ailment.

But that's it. Anything more than a minor medical problem will trigger a series of investigations into you, your background, and even your family. The sicker you get, the more intense the investigation becomes. HealthNet even gave monetary bonuses to its employees to encourage them to cancel more policies. The more sick people they canceled, the more money they made.

If you're a shareholder, that's a great business model: collect expensive premiums, and provide little or no services in return.

But if you're a policyholder - especially a sick policyholder - this appalling practice can bankrupt and even kill you. And believe me; while you may be struggling for your life, the lawyers for these insurance companies are working 24 hours a day, 7-days a week to protect their companies' bottom line - and your coverage becomes a casualty in this single-minded drive for profitability.

This is Senator McCain's America.

In the name of "choice," the McCain-Palin Plan would use tax incentives to wean Americans from employer-based plans that protect millions of workers and their families.

In Senator McCain's America, every American would fend for themselves against some of the most powerful corporations in the country.

In Senator McCain's America, these corporations would maximize their profits at the expense of us all.

In Senator McCain's America, whenever you got sick, you'd have to fight your insurance company at the same time you're fighting for your own life.

Senator Obama's America is an entirely different nation when it comes to health care.

In Senator Obama's America, every American would have the option to join a low-cost, high quality publicly funded health care system - a system with no profit motive, and therefore a moral and economic incentive to keep you well.

You'd still be able to retain your employer-provided coverage if you chose to do so, but the mere availability of a public plan - resembling the one used by every member of Congress, including Senator McCain - would transform the marketplace and create real economic consequences for the cynical games these huge corporations play with our money and our lives.