Insured, but Bankrupted by Health Crises

Discussion in 'Health and Lifestyle' started by Bfgrn, Jul 22, 2009.

  1. Bfgrn

    Bfgrn Gold Member

    Apr 4, 2009
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    Health insurance is supposed to offer protection — both medically and financially. But as it turns out, an estimated three-quarters of people who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems actually had insurance when they got sick or were injured.

    And so, even as Washington tries to cover the tens of millions of Americans without medical insurance, many health policy experts say simply giving everyone an insurance card will not be enough to fix what is wrong with the system.

    Too many other people already have coverage so meager that a medical crisis means financial calamity.

    One of them is Lawrence Yurdin, a 64-year-old computer security specialist. Although the brochure on his Aetna policy seemed to indicate it covered up to $150,000 a year in hospital care, the fine print excluded nearly all of the treatment he received at an Austin, Tex., hospital.

    He and his wife, Claire, filed for bankruptcy last December, as his unpaid medical bills approached $200,000.

    In the House and Senate, lawmakers are grappling with the details of legislation that would set minimum standards for insurance coverage and place caps on out-of-pocket expenses. And fear of the high price tag could prompt lawmakers to settle for less than comprehensive coverage for some Americans.

    But patient advocates argue it is crucial for the final legislation to guarantee a base level of coverage, if people like Mr. Yurdin are to be protected from financial ruin. They also call for a new layer of federal rules to correct the current state-by-state regulatory patchwork that allows some insurance companies to sell relatively worthless policies.

    “Underinsurance is the great hidden risk of the American health care system,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who has analyzed medical bankruptcies. “People do not realize they are one diagnosis away from financial collapse.”

    Last week, a former Cigna executive warned at a Senate hearing on health insurance that lawmakers should be careful about the role they gave private insurers in any new system, saying the companies were too prone to “confuse their customers and dump the sick.”

    “The number of uninsured people has increased as more have fallen victim to deceptive marketing practices and bought what essentially is fake insurance,” Wendell Potter, the former Cigna executive, testified.

    Mr. Yurdin learned the hard way.

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