December 2006

Insuring domestic tranquility

By David Feela

I’m feeling less and less tranquil these days despite our Constitution’s long-standing guarantee, and it’s not because of terror alerts or eco-radicals, gun-toting immigration militias or even government employees who work part-time as pimps. No, the people who make me really nervous are the ones who supposedly manage my insurance.

Naturally, we have to be prepared for any kind of fanaticism to strike at the heart of America, but the coldblooded threat of the calculated actuary table is the kind of terrorism that gives me the shivers. You see, despite the Infomercials promoting a century of reliable and dedicated concern for the health and welfare of their customers, the bottom line for insurance companies stands solid as that old rock: Profit. Plain and simple: they sell fear and they make their money the old-fashioned way, like parasites.

I know that insurance in America is a sacred cow, that the business end of each corporation snuggles up to Congress and together they breed laws, insurance laws designed to create an illusion of safety while minimizing the company’s financial risk. If, for example, the law requires all motorists to purchase vehicle insurance, why does uninsured motorist coverage even exist? Paying to be insured and then paying once more in case the car that hits me is uninsured makes about as much sense as requiring insurance companies to pay me a monthly premium – let’s call it diminished account policy – just in case there’s not enough money in the bank to cover the checks I write.

They call it a premium, but I know it’s just a bill, a steadily increasing price tag for a consistently diminished service. There’s no place where the decline of services is so obvious as in the health-insurance industry. My simple once-upon-a-time family physician metamorphosed into the hulk called an HMO with approved health providers, which transmogrified into a $15 co-pay per visit, which resurrected itself as a PPO with a $25 copay, which recently escalated into today’s $35 tithing to the Church of Calculated Risk. I pay the co-pay (notice how the word “pay” appears twice in that part of the sentence) not just to see the doctor, but also to receive prescriptions, and worse, now I’m charged a co-pay at the medical lab, an office where I’ve never set a physical foot in the door but only the rumor of me gets passed around by medical professionals.

If co-pay was the only consumer- gouging strategy healthinsurance corporations could muster, I’d still be mad, but not quite so disillusioned with the motives behind those organizations that claim to be interested in my health. Too many highly paid numbercrunching boardroom accountants invent other profiteering schemes, like increasing premiums every quarter, reducing coverage on more expensive drugs, refusing to pay surgeons who assist in procedures, increasing customer deductibles, and even coding operations so that insurance personnel thousands of miles away from my illness may become experts in diagnosing my motives for undergoing surgery, as if anesthesia were a drug of choice.

I pay premium dollars for health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, car insurance, scooter insurance, house insurance, and life insurance. I’m even encouraged to insure the appliances I buy with extended warranties.

I could sign up for supplemental medical coverage, a funeral plan, and retain a lawyer just in case I get cancelled by making a claim against one of my insurance providers. Of course, something unexpected will always happen. I will die, but thanks to America’s insurance industry at least I won’t – as the Bible warns – be bloated with wealth and the size of a camel trying to fit through the eye of a needle, which supposedly serves as the turnstile into heaven.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.