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01.17 New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future, say scientists

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01.16 Immediate fossil fuel phaseout could arrest climate change – study [Intelligent government is desperately needed]

01.16 Our oceans broke heat records in 2018 and the consequences are catastrophic [charts]

01.15 Solar Farms Shine a Ray of Hope on Bees and Butterflies [Wonderful!]

01.15 Australia could hit 100% renewables sooner than most people think

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01.15 'One fish at a time': Indonesia lands remarkable victory

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01.14 V.A. Seeks to Redirect Billions of Dollars Into Private Care [The most public and efficient healthcare in America has been demonized and will be destroyed rather than improved, raising total  per-capita costs]

01.14 Saudi Arabia Increases Solar Targets To 20 Gigawatts By 2023 & 40 Gigawatts By 2030

01.14 Solar + Storage Half The Cost Of Gas Peaker Plants — 8MinuteEnergy

01.14 Why thousands of Los Angeles teachers are going on strike [Well at least we got a big tax-cut for the super-rich, that was the most important thing.]

01.14 Air pollution 'as bad as smoking in increasing risk of miscarriage'

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01.09 'It's a nightmare': Americans' health at risk as shutdown slashes EPA

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01.19 The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?

01.19 Donald Trump Has Never Cared About Workers, and Never Will

01.19 Republicans’ lack of alarm over the shutdown reveals a disturbing truth [Sociopaths have little or no conscience, empathy or morality...]

01.19 Arizona: Four women convicted after leaving food and water in desert for migrants [morality is against the law]

01.19 Mueller breaks silence to dispute parts of bombshell report on Michael Cohen

01.18 “Are We Really Where We Are?”: Trump, Putin, and Washington’s Unbelievable New Normal

01.18 With Mattis Gone, Trump Is Already Sowing More Global Chaos [Trump plays General—what could go wrong...]

01.18 The Right’s Case Against Soaking the Rich Is Dirt Poor

01.18 Trump Worsens the Border Crisis

01.18 Impeach Donald Trump

01.18 President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project [An impeachable offense]

01.18 10 Things We All Lose If Bernie Chooses Not to Run in 2020 [Intelligent government is desperately needed]

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01.15 California’s largest utility just declared bankruptcy. Hello, climate change.

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01.19 Ahead of Third Annual Women's March, Group Releases Far-Reaching 'Intersectional Feminist Policy Platform'

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01.16 How Governments React to Climate Change: An Interview with the Political Theorists Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann

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  It Pays for Insurance Companies to Let Us Die
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COMMENTARY:

It Pays for Insurance Companies to Let Us Die

They sell malpractice insurance to doctors but are exempt from needing it, themselves

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 21 October 2009

The insurance companies, as many before me have pointed out, are this country’s real “death panels.”

My post on Tuesday–about how the health reform legislation will do nothing to stop private health insurance companies from continuing to turn down claims–brought in a comment from Richard Johnston, an employee benefits lawyer in California. Johnston has an entire blog dedicated to this subject–and to its legal underpinning in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA. The blog’s inaugural post has the clearest description of how this travesty of a law functions, and I recommend reading it in full.

Basically, ERISA says that if an insurance company wrongfully turns down your claim, and you take them to court and win, the only thing you can collect is the value of the benefits that the company should have paid out in the first place–plus, if you’re lucky, some attorney’s fees. No damages, as Johnston says, to compensate for “the trashed credit, the lost home, the bankruptcy, the ruined life.” In practice, this means there is a strong incentive for insurers to turn down claims, because even if they are violating their own policies and thus committing fraud, they literally have nothing to lose.

As of now we have a situation where the law tells insurers they face no meaningful consequences if they deny care improperly or even commit outright fraud. As one federal judge has commented, “if an HMO wrongly denies a participant’s claim even in bad faith, the greatest cost it could face is being compelled to cover the procedure, the very cost it would have faced had it acted in good faith. Any rational HMO will recognize that if it acts in good faith, it will pay for far more procedures than if it acts otherwise, and punitive damages, which might otherwise guard against such profiteering, are no obstacle at all.”

All this holds true even if the insurance company’s behavior causes death. When a 17-year-old died after Cigna turned down her request for a liver transplant, her parents sued the insurance company. As Johnston writes:

Thanks to ERISA, a Los Angeles judge had to dismiss their wrongful death case against Cigna, because ERISA provides the Cignas of the world immunity from liability for killing people....

The insurance companies’ flack, one Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, defended the outcome, saying that to hold insurance companies accountable for killing people will “bankrupt these plans, and employers would no longer be able to offer coverage.”

That makes perfect sense. How can you be expected to offer your services at a reasonable price if the courts are going to nitpick about you killing people?

The insurance companies, as many before me have pointed out, are this country’s real “death panels.”


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on October 22, 2009.
 



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