California’s Initiative Process Could Lead the Way on Real Health Insurance Reform

Consider the possibilities. How about a measure that said something like: “Any insurance company that makes a decision about what treatment a patient receives, overruling the patient’s doctor’s recommendation, will be deemed to be practicing medicine for purposes of any malpractice action brought by or on behalf of the patient.” A second section of the measure could empower a jury to decide whether the insurance company’s denial of coverage was in good faith or not. If not, the jury could impose punitive damages on the insurance company.

Right now, insurance company death panels can deny medical care to a patient and cause the patient to die. Panel members don’t need medical training or licenses and don’t need to follow any rules of acceptable medical practice or ethics. Their only goal in overruling the patient’s doctor’s advice is to achieve higher profits. A ballot measure which said that overruling a doctor’s advice is just as much “practicing medicine” as the doctor’s original advice was, would be simple, clear, and understandable for the average voter.

It would also be anathema to insurers, who now pay no consequences when they deny coverage to someone who is clearly entitled to it under the terms of their policy. Insurers would pay billions in campaign funds to defeat such an initiative.

But what of those people who want insurance companies to be accountable? Would they campaign for such a measure? Remember Proposition 103 a few years ago? It was a citizens’ initiative to reform the corrupt business of auto insurance. Insurance companies fought tooth and nail to defeat it. They claimed that it would push rates sky high. But it passed, and everyone’s car insurance rates went down.

Look at how campaigns operate now. President Obama is in office because people supported him with the new Internet campaign world. Groups like Move-On got people organized, energized, out into the streets, and then to the polls. Since then, the corporate world has tried to ride the same energy. They have mobilized everyone who hates the idea of a black president to attend meetings trashing anything that “Marxist n****r” in the White House proposes.

This is a good thing. The neo-con rabble are burning their energy on a corporate campaign which doesn’t have any payoff for them. When they have trashed health care reform, they will cry victory and then discover that that damn “Marxist n****r” is still in the White House. They will discover that having defeated public health care, they still have to contend with insurance company death panels.

A large number of them may be discouraged from joining the next corporate campaign. Some may even think about what happened, how they were used, and end up rebelling against corporate control.

On the other hand, a fairness-oriented campaign to hold insurers liable when they practice medicine might help energize voters who are now under-represented. Latinos are rapidly becoming a plurality ethnic block, but they vote at lower than average rates. As they struggle to play by the rules and build better lives for their children, they understand the cost of corporate decisions to deny coverage for which they’ve paid, or to impose business decisions to over rule the recommendations of doctors trying to treat their children.

tom_hall_2.jpgA campaign for a measure to make insurance death panels medically accountable might resonate with such citizens and motivate them to become voters. Just as Neo-con corporate campaigns strive to craft an emotional message for their divisiveness, a campaign for medical accountability for insurance death panels could resonate broadly with voters if it combined themes of fairness for insurance customers and responsibility for the corporations who collect the premiums with promises of coverage when it’s truly needed.

Given a chance to do something simple, clear, and fair to limit insurance company death panels and to punish bad faith insurance decisions, many people might stand up for beginning health insurance reform the way they stood up for car insurance reform.

Tom Hall

Published by the LA Progressive on September 5, 2009
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About Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com