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As Health Care Vote Nears, Another Troubling Insurance Story

Reuters filed a stunning report today about a health insurance company that targeted policyholders with HIV to drop their coverage. It opens with the case of Jerome Mitchell:

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell's case reveal that [health insurance company Fortis, now known as Assurant Health] had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators....

Insurance companies have long engaged in the practice of "rescission," whereby they investigate policyholders shortly after they've been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. But government regulators and investigators who have overseen the actions of Assurant and other health insurance companies say it is unprecedented for a company to single out people with HIV.

A South Carolina judge who ruled on the case noted that in the meeting in which the rescission committee reviewed Mitchell's case and decided to cancel his policy, there were more than 40 other customers whose cases were up for review, and "an average of three minutes or less" was spent per customer. Assurant Health told Reuters it doesn't comment on individual customer claims, while a spokesman added the company disagreed with "certain of the court's characterizations of Assurant Health's policies and procedures." 

As the story notes, it's not just this one insurance company that has been engaging in aggressive rescission. In California, state regulators fined five major health insurance providers--Health Net, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, PacifiCare and Kaiser Permanente--for dropping more than 6,000 sick policyholders. The terms of those settlements, reached in 2008 and 2009, have yet to be implemented in most cases, according to news reports from last week.

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