Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Mini-Meds under fire?

According to USA Today, police officers should stop trying to catch bank robbers, airlines should ground their fleets, and doctors should desist from operating on seriously ill patients.
Oh, and we Americans are too stupid to be allowed to buy (or refrain from buying) our own health insurance.
Think I'm kidding?
Well, that's the logic behind this article, which starts out by painting its putative hero as an idiot:
"To his surprise." Translation: they bought an insurance product and never bothered to read what it did, and did not, cover. Now, I know that no one reads all the mice-type, but surely folks should at least familiarize themselves with obvious limitations, which annual limits like this would certainly comprise.
"Limited benefit medical plans" (or "mini-meds," about which we've written before) are not new, but they've been revitalized as folks look for cheaper ways to purchase insurance. There's nothing inherently wrong with looking for a bargain (hey, if there was, then so long Ebay); but that shopping must be tempered with the axiom that "you get what you pay for." That is, if a product is markedly less expensive than comparable plans, then there's probably a very good reason, and that very good reason is not going to redound to your benefit.
Does that mean that mini-meds are inferior? Not necessarily, but the key word in "limited benefits" is limited.
But wait, it gets better (or worse, depending on one's perspective). According to Citizens for Economic Opportunity's Beverley Brakeman, when they purchase a mini-med plan "people think they have insurance, get sick and find out that they don't." Um, no: when they purchase a lesser product (such as a mini-med) and pay a lower rate because of its limitations, they've bought insurance. It's like saying "people that rented a small apartment instead of buying a big house are homeless."
It's quite the conundrum: at a given moment, we have "x" number of folks who are, either by choice or happenstance, without insurance. The industry, under seige for not adequately addressing the issue, rebrands and remarkets a scaled-back benefit plan that enables almost a million people to purchase at least some form of coverage. And the response? "Not good enough."
So, why the hysterical comments in the first sentence? Well, let's think about it: insurers market a product with a lower price tag (and lower benefits and caps) and manage to insure a non-trivial number of people. Not every uninsured person, but a decent chunk. And the response from the sidelines: "Not good enough." That's exactly like saying that since the cops can't catch every burglar, they should stop trying to catch any burglars. And since the airlines can't guarantee that every flight will arrive safely and on time, they should stop flying altogether.
Well, you get the point.
ADDENDUM: I just re-read Bob's post on how Massachusetts' foray into state-sponsored health insurance has left a lot of young folks with stupendous uncovered (and unpaid) expenses. The plans are problematic "because of annual limits and caps on outpatient care and surgeons' fees."
"Annual limits?" "Caps" Sound familiar?
So how come when the insurance industry pushes these it's a nightmare, but when the gummint implements them it's "progress?"


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