BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina plans to drop two large urgent care providers from its coverage network in October.
So, as reported on our front page Tuesday, Joe Riley dropped a scolding letter on the insurance company last week, condemning that decision as "financially self-serving."
Hey, mayoral bids to expand tax bases are "financially self-serving," too.
Yet Riley's neither wrong nor alone in protesting arbitrary, unfair, and yes, "financially self-serving" injustices inflicted by insurance moguls. And he was correct in his letter to hail health care "freedom of choice."
Sure, the profit motive is nothing new.
What's getting sickeningly old, though, is the monopoly-like squeeze the insurance industry clamps on what isn't really a free health care market.
Even many of us diehard capitalism fans appropriately alarmed about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act long ago lost our stomachs (figuratively, not medically) for defending the insurance racket.
For instance, why do insurance billing mistakes always seem to stick us with more instead of less than our fair share under our policies?
A too-familiar scenario: Your bill is $500 higher than what you anticipated under your plan. You call the insurance company. You wait quite a while, punching numerous numbers as instructed by a recorded voice. You finally get a human being on the line. That person sends you to another person, who sends you to another person, who's not in. You leave a message.
Days later, you finally make voice-to-voice contact with a living person who tells you the company's right and you're wrong. You're not convinced. The next voice also rejects your plea. You make the same appeal in writing, seemingly to no avail.
Then finally, if you're persistent and lucky enough, the company concedes and you get to keep that $500.
So what about the people who don't notice the excess charge? What about those who do but sooner or later pay it rather than suffer additional stress-elevating aggravation?
How much loot do insurance companies reap with their "financially self-serving" delay games?
And how much does such private-sector duplicity bolster the misguided cause of public-sector - as in nationalized - health care?
Who's serving whom?
Milton Friedman wrote a 1996 guest column in The Wall Street Journal under the inspiring headline "A Way Out of Soviet-Style Health Care."
Borrowing telling words from Nobel literature laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's not-so-cheery novel "The Cancer Ward," Nobel economist laureate Friedman made enduring points about unhealthy common ground between big government and big insurance:
" 'Depersonalized,' 'doctor and patient as enemies' - those are the key phrases in the growing body of complaints about health maintenance organizations and other forms of managed care. In many managed care situations, the patient no longer regards the physician who serves him as 'his' or 'her' physician responsible primarily to the patient; and the physician no longer regards himself as primarily responsible to the patient."
Friedman also cited "problems of portability, third party payment and rising costs" stemming from the post-World War II rise of employer-provided insurance, adding:
"A second major change was the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. These added another large slice of the population to those for whom medical care, though not completely 'free,' thanks to deductibles and co-payments, was mostly paid by a third party, providing little incentive to economize on medical care. The resulting dramatic rise in expenditures on medical care led to the imposition of controls on both patients and suppliers of medical care in a futile attempt to hold down costs."
In other words, there's no such thing as "free" medical care.
There's no such thing as "free" Medicaid expansion, either.
Friedman's "way out":
Ending the tax exemption for employer-provided coverage, while theoretically wise, is politically impossible. So extend that break to all insurance plans. That would encourage individual "medical savings accounts," injecting price competition through true freedom of health care choice.
Unfortunately, while that idea is still pushed by some Republicans (including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan), its appeal is limited in a nation where many folks buy the "free" health care con.
But at least under the Affordable Care Act, if you like your doctor and your health care plan, you can keep your doctor and your health care plan.
OK, so lots of us knew that promise was bogus long before its maker - our current president - admitted it.
And all insurance tycoons should know that Riley isn't the only one rightly riled up about their "financially self-serving" machinations.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.
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