"Villains" of Healthcare? Not These Insurance Agents

Colin T. Son, MD


November 17, 2009

If there is a "villain" in the healthcare reform debate, it is private insurance. High-profile investigations and a general backlash against corporate America have been the backdrop to the healthcare reform debate.

But to downplay the good that commercial insurance has done throughout the history of healthcare in America probably doesn't do justice. To villainize the whole industry is counterproductive to making America's healthcare system more functional. So is the increasingly adversarial relationship among provider, patient, and payer.

Fortunately, there are individuals like Jay and Louise Norris, who run a small health insurance brokerage in Colorado. They offer insights on the health insurance industry at their blog, Colorado Health Insurance Insider.

Colorado Health Insurance Insider hosts Grand Rounds
on November 17, 2009

As you might imagine, what with HR 3962 coming to fruition and the rest of the healthcare reform debate coming to a head, the Norrises have written at length about what reform might mean for the industry and for the vast majority of Americans:

Providing health insurance and real access to health care for nearly 50 million people who are currently uninsured isn't a cheap proposal. A couple of the ideas on the table right now are a tax on "sin foods" and a tax on "Cadillac health insurance plans."

I can't see any way that a tax on "Cadillac health insurance plans" wouldn't end up just being passed on to the employees who are covered by the plans.

I suppose a tax on individual health insurance plans that still have lots of bells and whistles could make sense. People who are purchasing health insurance on their own do have lots of options from which they can choose, and if they still wanted to buy a "Cadillac plan" despite an addition tax, so be it. But I think most of this legislation is aimed at employer-sponsored plans. Employees don't have hundreds of choices when it comes time to fill out their open-enrollment forms each year. And an extra tax on these plans would almost certainly be passed along to the employees. That might result in more employees opting to waive coverage, which would be counter-productive.

In another recent post, the Norrises discussed insurance premiums and the so-called "public option":

In Colorado, employer-sponsored health insurance premiums rose by almost 87% between 2000 and 2009, while wages increased by only 20.5% over those years. Employees are increasingly seeing higher premiums deducted from their pay, combined with higher deductibles and copays. But employers still pay the lion's share of many employees' health insurance premiums, and the prospect of even higher premiums isn't likely to sit well with them.

Of course, the question remains as to whether or not a public option would actually cause private health insurance premiums to rise more quickly than they already do.

The blog is, admittedly, a business resource for the Norrises' insurance brokerage, but it is also very informative for people interested in understanding the insurance industry. For instance, they provide a guide on buying health insurance and an explanation of health savings accounts. In these changing political and economic winds, I am certain that the Colorado Health Insurance Insider blog will continue to be a wonderful reference point.

This week, Colorado Health Insurance Insider hosts Grand Rounds, which is the best of the medical blogosphere. Each week a different blogger compiles the best posts from around the Internet as written by doctors, nurses, patients, policy wonks, and others interested in healthcare. It's all published in one place, a quick reference for what the healthcare community is talking about online.