Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pre-existing condition? We don’t need no stinkin’ pre-existing condition...

One of the major points advanced in favor of health insurance reform is that insurance companies abuse the privilege of refusing to cover you if they decide you have a pre-existing condition, or pulling the plug on coverage you already have if they decide you had one you didn’t tell them about when you applied for coverage. That’s a sad state of affairs, without question. As in other areas, of course, ERISA manages to make a bad situation worse. Much worse.

If you get your insurance through your employment, ERISA wipes out any state law protection you might have in this area, and health plans can simply change your “coverage” to exclude a condition you might develop, never mind whether it was pre-existing or not. Consider the sad case of John McGann, who discovered in December 1987 that he was afflicted with AIDS. At least, he thought, he was fortunate to have good insurance from his employer, H&H Music Company, which provided coverage for AIDS treatment up to a $1,000,000 lifetime limit.

John McGann, unfortunately for him, failed to consider what ERISA was about to do to him.

Now, Mr. McGann had an insurance policy through his employment with H&H, already issued, already underwritten, premiums fully paid. There was absolutely no indication his AIDS was a pre-existing condition, and no one ever claimed it was.

But in 1988, when the insurance company, General American Life Insurance Company, got wind of his illness, all of a sudden things changed at H&H:

In July 1988, H&H Music informed its employees that, effective August 1, 1988, changes would be made in their insurance coverage. These changes included, but were not limited to, limitation of benefits payable for AIDS-related claims to a lifetime maximum of $5,000. No limitation was placed on any other catastrophic illness.

Now hold on a minute. John McGann had an insurance policy which said treatment for AIDS was covered up to $1,000,000. An insurance policy, which most people think of as a binding contract that the insurer will cover what it says it will. But H&H just canceled the policy and pulled it out from under Mr. McGann, replacing it with a self-insured plan with the aforementioned stingy AIDS benefit.

By the way, in court, H&H and General American proudly admitted:

the reduction was prompted by the knowledge of McGann’s illness, and that McGann was the only beneficiary then known to have AIDS.

The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed ERISA, and concluded:

[ERISA] does not prohibit an employer from electing not to cover or continue to cover AIDS, while covering or continuing to cover other catastrophic illnesses, even though the employer’s decision in this respect may stem from some “prejudice” against AIDS or its victims generally.

It wasn’t even that hard, either. ERISA is pretty clear that your employer, if, say, the insurance company threatens to raise premiums in response to an employee coming down with a covered illness, can just cancel that part of the coverage and leave the sick employee, who didn't think they were in the ranks of the uninsured, high and dry. Indeed, never mind higher premiums, ERISA allows coverage to be precipitously canceled because of, say “some ‘prejudice’ against AIDS or its victims.”

That’s ERISA for you. If we don’t fix ERISA, now, then any “reform” we might achieve will be empty indeed.

The case is McGann v. H&H Music Co., and the citation is 946 F.2d 401 (5th Cir. 1991).

By the way, John McGann died in June 1991.

4 comments:

  1. Yes its true that people having pre-existing condition will face many difficulties when looking for a health plan. I too have personally faced it when I was searching for a health insurance for my dad. All though the probability of the problem was very less still the agent denied to make out the policy.
    corporate insurance

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes its true that people having pre-existing condition will face many difficulties when looking for a health plan. I too have personally faced it when I was searching for a health insurance for my dad. All though the probability of the problem was very less still the agent denied to make out the policy.
    corporate insurance

    ReplyDelete
  3. It really is important that whether you are young or healthy, people should have Disability Insurance. Life is unpredictable, but its still possible to prevent the worse.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Life insurance is very important and it is the best way to save money. If you are busy person and have no any time to go insurance company and you can easily get insurance in the internet.
    Employee Benefits

    ReplyDelete