USA Today: 'A Little Medical Coverage' Worse than None

     Even when people have access to health insurance, that’s not good enough for the USA Today.


     A June 6 story by Julie Appleby emphasized the problems of limited health insurance questioning “whether such policies provide a false sense of security.” The story attacked the limited plans by selecting experts from two pro-universal health care advocacy groups, as well as highlighting two cases of legal action by liberal attorneys general. Critics of these lower-cost plans outnumbered supporters in the article by two to one.


     This isn’t the first time the article’s author, Appleby, has presented a one-sided view of health care issues. An Aug. 31, 2005, story complained about expensive health care, but buried the major reason for the cost because medicine can save lives that never would have survived in the past.


     The two health care advocacy groups mentioned this time took a hostile stance toward the health insurance industry. But, Appleby gave readers no sense of their liberal advocacy positions.


     Opponents say the burden of personal responsibility should rest on the insurers, not the individual that purchased the coverage. Beverly Brakeman, of the Citizens for Economic Opportunity (CEO) stated under limited-health benefit plans, “people think they have insurance, get sick and find out that they don’t.”


     CEO holds insurance providers accountable for all the woes in health care. The organization, aligned with several labor unions, stated on its Web site under its stance on health care – “The insurance industry plays a large role in the current health care crisis and should be held accountable to its consumers and engaged in the universal healthcare debate.”


     The other liberal organization referenced in the story also didn’t pull any punches on the limited-benefit health insurance providers. 


     “I don’t believe that something is better than nothing when what you have doesn’t work for you when you’re sick,” said Mila Kofman of the Georgetown University Health Care Policy Institute. The institute is closely aligned with the liberal Kaiser Family Foundation, a group that advocates the expansion of government-funded health programs, as well as the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth’s (CAMY), a group that encourages more regulatory action by the government.


     The story did provide some comment from the other side, including voices from the insurance company. A spokeswoman from the staffing agency, Aerotek, which provided the limited-benefit policy stating that enrollees have several outlets to determine the scope of the policy they chose.


     However, another more important point was buried at the end of the article. The marketing director for Essential-Care, Susan Nicolai, stated the policies “are not intended to be catastrophic coverage. It’s intended to help with day-to-day medical costs.”


     Even Appleby’s examples were skewed to show a problem. She provided three instances of limited-health insurance enrollees and their experiences–two unsatisfied customers with just one favorable experience.


     The piece, “Is a little medical coverage better that much better than none?” led with the two unhappy customers. However, both had good reasons for the high cost. One chose an inferior policy to what he could have chosen, since his wife was to be expecting a baby. The other was a victim had frequent seizures.


     Those details were buried in the middle of the story. Even with caps on the benefits in these examples; the policy still pays more than these two examples put in. In one case, Tony Camilleri, who had an expectant wife, paid $3,600 a year for a maximum of $7,500 in benefits.  The other case, the seizure victim Eric Chaves, paid only $1,144 annually for a maximum of $13,600 in assorted benefits.


     Appleby also turned to two New England Democratic attorneys general that have a predisposition against health insurers. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, recently rated the worst attorney general by Hans Bader of the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, has a history of going after businesses – including tobacco, Microsoft and the health insurance industry.


     The other, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, also ranks in Bader’s top 10 of bad attorneys general. Reilly has filed a lawsuit against the HealthMarkets, because they fail to cover services required by the state, according to the USA Today story.