A key element of health care changes being proposed in Washington is universal coverage and coverage for pre-existing claims. House Democrats Tuesday tried to demonstrate why they think both reforms are needed.
The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations convened a hearing to take testimony from people who struggled to get coverage, or had their existing coverage rescinded. Lawmakers also hauled the executives from these insurance companies before the subcommittee to explain their actions.
"Cancer is expensive and no one wants to help," said Robin Beaton, a Texas woman battling breast cancer.
She told lawmakers that her doctor had scheduled a double mastectomy but before the operation, her insurance company rescinded her health coverage. The company said it had reviewed Beaton's medical records and found discrepancies in the information she had provided. Beaton said they were unintentional.
As for the insurance executives, they said their companies rely on their clients to report complete medical histories. Being able to rescind a policy, they said, is an important tool to prevent fraud.
Don Hamm, CEO of Assurant Health, said his company rescinds policies only in cases where the withheld information would have made a material difference in the policy.
The hearing was a result to a year long investigation into abuses within the health insurance industry and a warm-up to the debate to come over health care reform.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the results of the investigation show that the nation's health insurance system is flawed.
"One of the biggest problems is that most states allow insurance companies to deny coverage for people with preexisting conditions," Waxman said. "So if you lose your job, and you can't qualify for a government program like Medicare or Medicaid, it's nearly impossible to get health insurance if you are sick or have an illness. This creates a perverse incentive. In the United States, insurance companies compete based on who is best at avoiding people who need life-saving health care."