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NYT: The multifaceted failings of US health insurance

Summary: The New York Times, the most respected US daily newspaper, over the last week prominently published three stories about startling failings in our health insurance system. Are the reporters and editors sending us a message – time to change health insurance system?

Their Baby Died in the Hospital. Then Came the $257,000 Bill
New York Times
September 21, 2021
By Sarah Kliff

Last summer, Ms. Lane started receiving debt collection notices. The letters, sent by the health plan Cigna, said she owed the insurer over $257,000 for the bills it accidentally covered for Alexandra’s care after Ms. Lane switched health insurers.

Ms. Lane was flummoxed: It was Cigna that had received the initial bill for care and had paid Mount Sinai West. Now, Cigna was seeking the money it had overpaid the hospital by turning to the patient.

“For them, it’s just business, but for us it means constantly going through the trauma of reliving our daughter’s death,” said Clayton Lane, Alexandra’s father and Ms. Lane’s husband. “It means facing threats of financial ruin. It’s so unjust and infuriating.”

Medicare Expansion Clashes with Health Care for the Poor as Budget Bill Shrinks
New York Times
September 20, 2021
By Jonathan Weisman & Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Democrats are facing tough moral and political decisions over how to pursue their century-old dream of universal health care now that their ambitious $3.5 trillion social safety net bill will almost certainly have to be trimmed back.

As they try to reduce the bill’s cost, members of the party disagree over whether to prioritize expanding coverage to more poor adults in states whose leaders have refused to do so or to give new Medicare benefits to older people across income levels.

This Lab Charges $380 for a Covid Test. Is That What Congress Had in Mind?
New York Times
September 26, 2021
By Sarah Kliff

At the drugstore, a rapid Covid test usually costs less than $20.

Across the country, over a dozen testing sites owned by the start-up company GS Labs regularly bill $380.

There’s a reason they can. When Congress tried to ensure that Americans wouldn’t have to pay for coronavirus testing, it required insurers to pay certain laboratories whatever “cash price” they listed online for the tests, with no limit on what that might be.

Comment by: Isabel Ostrer

Three stories in one week on the front page of the preeminent US newspaper. Three stark examples of just how diversely broken the American health insurance system is.

1) A family being harassed by an insurer who accidentally paid for a hospital bill after the family had already switched insurance providers. Now the family relives the tragedy of their infant daughter dying each time they contend with these outrageous and illegitimate bills.

2) Congress debating whether to expand coverage to low-income adults who were left out during the piecemeal expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act or to give seniors more comprehensive health coverage. A terrible choice.

3) A lab gaming the system to change exorbitantly high prices for Covid tests, which is only possible because the US government refuses to take an active role in controlling such prices.

Together, these very different stories offer a glimpse of the myriad ways that American health care fails the American people. Single payer could fix all these problems. A unified insurer would mean the Lane family would not have to contend with multiple for-profit insurers debating which bills they covered. A unified insurer would cover all Americans instead of leaving poor individuals in ACA-non-expansion states by the wayside, and provide comprehensive coverage. A unified insurer would regulate prices and eliminate price-gouging, and control the unhinged growth of American health spending.  

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