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So, I was just listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR and became so completely enraged both at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan and at the mealy-mouthed host and guests, that I had to turn it off.  Diane herself was not hosting the show, it was Frank Sesno.  It was their usual type of follow-up program to the president's speech last night.

A lady called Deborah called in.  She said that she is a small business owner and buys health insurance for her family (there are three of them, I think she said) on the individual market.  She pays $1,000 per month in premiums, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan just let her know that her premium will soon go up by about 30%.  Nothing so strange about that, right?  Everybody is used to insurance companies putting up their premiums by colossal amounts every year.  (For example, see nickm11's diary today.)  The difference is that a representative of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan told Deborah that this year healthcare reform was to blame for the increase!

Specifically, she was told that the huge increase in her premium was the result of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan having to start covering people's pre-existing conditions.  Anyone with half a brain can see that this is complete and utter nonsense: the healthcare reform bill hasn't passed yet, and if and when it does, nobody knows what final form it may take.  It may well have a clause inserted to extend the date by which insurance companies will have to start covering people's pre-existing conditions.

So, apparently some scumbags at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan have cynically trained their customer service reps to tell this lie to customers to deflect blame for higher premiums from the company to the healthcare reform bill.  I can only assume that this measure is aimed at killing support for the bill among their customers, who constitute 65% of Michigan's private health insurance holders (I think that's what "65% of market" means--source: ).  

And if one insurance company is doing it, I'm sure others are too.  I can't think of a more contemptible example of a corporation propagandizing in favor of its own interests.  It's even scummier than forcing employees to listen to anti-unionization lectures.

What really pissed me off was that neither the host nor any of the guests pointed out the obvious mendacity of what the caller had been told.  They just made vague statements about how everyone who now has health insurance will have to pay more in order to cover the currently uninsured, totally reinforcing the impression that the Blue Cross/Blue Shield propaganda had given, and spreading it to a national audience.  Thanks, guys!

According to the Diane Rehm Show's page the guests were:

Norman Ornstein, is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; coauthor with Thomas Mann of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."

Joseph Antos, is Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Judy Feder, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

Carrie Budoff Brown, Health Care reporter for Politico.

Of course, I would expect nothing more than that from American Enterprise Institute employees.  That place is like a Works Progress Administration for lightweight conservative intellectuals.

In contrast with the nonsense that "Deborah from Michigan" was told, the reason for premium increases given by Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Michigan regulators was "to help cover $133 million in financial losses in 2008 on its individual health insurance policies," as reported by the Crain's Detroit Business in August.

Additional details at this website, which I am not familiar with, but which seems legit in its use of sources, give me the impression that BC/BS is a heartless, money-grubbing, vampiric borg:

Blue Cross originally sought to raise individual rates by 56 percent and group rates by 41 percent. Its proposed rate increases were initially rejected by the state’s Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, which negotiated the still-significant hikes.

The new rates, set to take effect October 1, will affect 163,000 policies.

Blue Cross is also awaiting a September 14 hearing on its proposed 33 percent rate hike for senior citizens
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox took exception to the proposed increases, saying Blue Cross should cover its losses with its current $2.4 billion surplus.

You can read an exchange of letters between Reps. Dingell and Levin and BCBS on these rate hikes at these links:

Cry me a river, Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  Show me your budget if you want any sympathy for your plight.

Originally posted to Ruthtopia on Thu Sep 10, 2009 at 11:35 AM PDT.

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