This report was authored by ace journalist and researcher Andrew Perez, who is now pitching in to TMI as we expand the newsletter. - Sirota
The health care industry probably thought its political work was done for the year when Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign stalled out.
But then the coronavirus crisis hit, which once again laid bare the failures of America’s corporate-run health care system: More than nine million people have already lost their job-based health insurance, COVID victims have been hit with exorbitant bills, and now polls show a surge of support for government-guaranteed health care.
In response, the industry’s front group, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, is back on the scene, fresh off running more than $2 million worth of ads against Medicare for All during the Democratic primary. The group -- which is run by insurance and pharma executives and comprised of insurers, drug companies and hospital corporations -- recently launched new ads touting insurance companies as the great altruistic saviors during the crisis. In its “Working Together” campaign, we are led to believe that insurers are voluntarily making big sacrifices to help save the day.
Please clap — and then realize that the storyline is bullshit.
The insurance industry has been making big money in 2020 while resisting making sacrifices. In some cases, it has only made minimal changes after public outcry and governmental action.
Take this new Facebook ad from the Partnership:
“ICYMI: All 36 independent and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association companies are waiving cost sharing for telehealth services for fully insured members for the next 90 days. #WorkingTogether.”
The link refers to a March 19 press release from BCBS announcing a new telehealth policy: “All 36 independently-operated BCBS companies and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Federal Employee Program® (FEP®) are expanding coverage for telehealth services for the next 90 days.”
However, documents suggest BCBS didn’t just spontaneously decide out of the goodness of its corporate heart to expand health care coverage.
By the time BCBS’ policy was put in place, health care providers in Washington State -- which was one of the first states to experience a coronavirus outbreak -- were filing consumer complaints alleging that BCBS companies were failing to cover telehealth services when the public was being encouraged to stay home and practice safe social distancing, according to files obtained through a public record request.
“I am a psychologist in network with Premera,” one psychologist wrote in a complaint filed on March 19 with the state’s insurance commissioner. “During this Covid-19 pandemic, I like many other providers, are switching to telehealth services to be able to continue to provide excellent care to patients. I have spent many hours on the phone over the past week with Premera customer service to determine if telehealth services for behavioral health are covered for my patients.”
“The customer service was excellent; however, I was very disappointed to learn that for some plans, telehealth was not covered for behavioral health OR services were covered but only through using a specific platform such as ‘Talkspace,’” she wrote. “I think it is completely unreasonable, and unsafe for that matter, to expect patients who have already established care with a psychologist/behavioral health provider to have to make the decision to end care or switch to an approved telehealth platform where they would need to pick a different provider. This is unsafe, unreasonable and irresponsible in regard to providing good care.”
A speech therapist wrote in another complaint filed on March 19: “Regence is not covering telehealth for speech-language pathology services. We need ALL insurances to cover ALL telemedicine for ALL speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physical therapy sessions at [the] same rate and coverage as in-office services during this public health crisis!”
There were similar complaints filed against Aetna and UnitedHealthcare.
Responding to the outcry, Governor Jay Inslee signed a proclamation on March 26 explicitly barring health insurers from denying telehealth claims from in-network providers. According to a recent report, some health care providers across the country assert that they are still having trouble getting insurance companies to cover telehealth services.
Keep all of this in mind when you see the next health care industry front group ad. When they talk about health care companies “working together,” they mean to preserve the status quo -- not to help you.