Insurance Companies are the real life Death Panels.

Real-life ‘Norma Rae’ dies of cancer after her health insurance refused to cover her medications.


Crystal Lee Sutton, whose courageous efforts organizing Southern textile mills inspired the award-winning 1979 film “Norma Rae,” passed away on Friday after a long battle with brain cancer. Sutton’s story is particularly tragic because after fighting her whole life for rights of working Americans, her health insurance wouldn’t cover the medications she needed:

She went two months without possible life-saving medications because her insurance wouldn’t cover it, another example of abusing the working poor, she said.

“How in the world can it take so long to find out (whether they would cover the medicine or not) when it could be a matter of life or death,” she said. “It is almost like, in a way, committing murder.”

Although Sutton eventually received the medication, the cancer had already taken a toll on her.

More from ThinkProgress:

Former Health Insurance Executive Explains How Companies Pocket Billions Through ‘Rescission’

NOTE: This is the first installment of our series — Meet Your Insurance Company Executive: An Interview with Wendell Potter.

Yesterday, ThinkProgress talked with Wendell Potter, Cigna Health Care’s former Communication Director, about a common and widespread practice among insurance companies called “rescission.” As the former Cigna executive explains, rescission is the insurance industry practice of finding reasons — even reasons as flimsy as typos on your enrollment form — to cancel your coverage when you get sick. According to Potter, insurance companies are saving billions by rescinding coverage from Americans who purchase individual insurance:

POTTER: If they determine that you might have left out something that they consider pertinent on your application and might have indicated that you would have had some illness or might get an illness down the road, and you’ve been getting treatment and submitting claims to your insurance company, they will go back and look at that application and they will often rescind or cancel your policy even if you’ve been paying your premiums on-time, every month, for years. You will be left holding the bag with the responsibility of paying all of your medical care when insurance companies do this. They’ve been doing it for many years and saving billions of dollars as a result of this.

Watch the video here.

The Washington Post recently highlighted other examples of rescission:

Woman Lost Her Home Because Coverage Was Canceled For Condition She Didn’t Have. “For Teresa Dietrich, it was fibroids. The Northern California real estate agent was left to pay $19,000 after Blue Cross said she did not disclose a diagnosis of the benign uterine tumors. But Dietrich said the doctor who had written ‘fibroids’ on her medical record never mentioned his suspicions to her. The bills destroyed her credit and cost her her home – and, in a comically cruel twist, the surgery proved the doctor was wrong. ‘They said I had a condition I didn’t even have,’ Dietrich said. ‘And they canceled me.’”

Woman Saddled With $25,000 Debt For Not Disclosing Condition She Didn’t Know She Had. “The untimely disappearance of Sally Marrari’s medical coverage goes a long way toward explaining why insurance companies are cast as the villain in the health-care reform drama. ‘They said I never mentioned I had a back problem,’ said Marrari, 52, whose coverage with Blue Cross was abruptly canceled in 2006 after a thyroid disorder, fluid in the heart and lupus were diagnosed. That left the Los Angeles woman with $25,000 in medical bills and the stigma of the company’s claim that she had committed fraud by not listing on a health questionnaire ‘preexisting conditions’ Marrari said she did not know she had.’”

Woman Denied Coverage For Gall Bladder Surgery Because Of Husband’s High Cholesterol. Washington Post: “In a pending case, Blue Shield searched in vain for an inconsistency in the health records of the wife of a dairy farmer after she filed a claim for emergency gallbladder surgery, according to attorneys for the family. Turning to her husband’s questionnaire, the company discovered he had not mentioned his high cholesterol and dropped them both. Blue Shield officials said they would not comment on a pending case.”

Rescission is widespread – an investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found that three insurance companies alone (WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Assurant) cancelled more than 20,000 policies in the last five years.


16 Comments to “Insurance Companies are the real life Death Panels.”

  1. Yep. She died. I don’t see where it’s particularly tragic though; she was hardly young. Her being a Union activist doesn’t have any real bearing on the matte of her death except that some will capitalize upon it to further push their left-wing agenda by making the patently false claim that ObamaCare would be better in such circumstances that private insurance.

    • LOL. The irony of your statement, of course, is that the republicans have been going around talking about people “pulling the plug on grandma” and government sanctioned death panels that will determine whether or not you live or die. Which makes your comment even more hilarious since you’re pretty much stating that it’s no big deal because she was old.

      The only point I’m making is that we already have death panels. They are called the insurance companies. I’m about to update this post with a couple of other stories, which I am sure that you won’t find any fault with…. because, you’re you.

    • And might I add, I don’t expect the public option to be perfect. Nothing is. But the fact that there is so much opposition to improving the current system AND creating an option for those who otherwise could never be approved for health insurance says a lot about the mentality of some of the people in the anti-reform crowd.

    • Of course ObamaCare will include tacit death panels, and of course the current, private system has the same thing. Saying otherwise in either case is ridiculous. Decisions of what procedures and drugs to cover and for whom they will be covered is part and parcel of health insurance. The only thing that ObamaCare would change is who you have to court against to get coverage. In the current model it’s a corporation; in Obama’s model it’s the federal government.

      I’d rather file suit against company than the federal government, but that’s a personal opinion. You might prefer to sue the Feds over a company.

      As for ObamaCare’s Public Option – it’s serves no purpose other than as an attempt to destroy private health insurance. The other provisions in ObamaCare outlaw companies from denying coverage to anyone and provide for government handouts to ensure that everyone can pay for such.

      You might want to think about that “anti-reform” crowd. A lot of us aren’t anti-reform; we’re anti-ObamaCare because it doesn’t represent reform, only redistribution of costs.

      • We could have a real discussion/debate about health care if it wasn’t for all of the side shows and having to counter ridiculous things such as the death panel, and all the other nonsense that republicans are throwing out there to prevent any change from occurring at all. I am not going to sit here and say that the plan that President Obama is presenting is perfect and covers everything that needs to be done… But, how are we to have any kind of serious discussion in the current climate?

        And you are right. People die. Having a public option is not going to put an end to death. It’ll just give people more of a fighting chance when they do get sick. One thing I wish that would be more of a focus is preventative care, which includes eating better and taking care of yourself. But even that can’t happen because it will be looked at as the government telling you how to live your life.

        I also, honestly, don’t understand why I should care about the private insurance companies bottom line. When they are looking for any way under the sun, regardless of how irrational it may be, to deny people coverage that they THINK they have, they show themselves to be soulless. And which case, caring about the well being of the private insurance companies would be like me caring whether or not “the devil” is happy in “hell.”

        At any rate, I would love to have some rational conversations about this, but it’s but most aren’t open to doing that.

      • You should also throw into the mix the nonsense that Obama and the Democrats are throwing out there; they’re lying at least as must as their enemies are. Until Wilson gross rudeness ObamaCare would have provided coverage for illegal immigrants because it lacked any enforcement language and actually reduced enforcement capabilities regarding residency status and Medicaid. Likewise, abortions will be subsidized under ObamaCare unless NO plan on the proposed Exchange offers the service or unless no federal subsidy (Affordability credits) is offered for ANY plan that does offer abortion services. We’ve already discussed Death Panels and the fact that their will be such under ObamaCare just as there are now under the current system.

        Having a public option is not going to put an end to death. It’ll just give people more of a fighting chance when they do get sick.

        I’m truly curious. How do you think the Public Option would do this? The primary bill in play, HR 3200, already requires that everyone be covered and that nobody can be dropped except due to fraud or failure to pay their premiums. The Exchange already fixes minimum standards and separates health insurance from employment. Affordability credits already subsidize purchase of ANY plan on the Exchange. What real benefit, in your opinion, does the Public Option actually offer?

      • Taxpayers already pay for illegal immigrants medical bills, and will continue to pay for illegal immigrants medical bills.

        If illegals go to the ER to get treated and they can’t afford to pay the bill, how does it get paid? How about all the uninsured Americans who go to ER’s and can’t pay their bills? Do peoples premiums not go up due to this? Haven’t congress approved taxpayers monies to cover illegal immigrants ER bills?

        All of that said, the language always existed to confirm citizenship in the bill. They’ve now just further elaborated on that portion of it. Not to mention that agencies such as the IRS won’t accept fake SS#’s and already have a “self checking” system in place. Oh, and as far as illegals being able to BUY insurance, like actually PAYING for the public option, there’s nothing that prevents them from doing that with private insurers – as far as I know. Do you have different information on that? And would you propose/agree that hospitals should not treat illegals when they go to the ER for treatment? If you say that they should be treated, then aren’t we just running in circles? Illegal immigration in itself is something that needs to be dealt with. But, do businesses in this country actually want to get rid of that cheap labor?

        As for what the public option provides, from what I understand, it will be there to help regulate costs. Which keeps going up every year. The private insurers can’t be trusted to do the right thing and will always be looking for loopholes to get out of spending money… Mostly so that they can continue getting there 10+ million dollar bonuses each year.

      • Ummm…No. The language to confirm residency was not in the bills in question – it still isn’t in HR 3200 – until the day after Wilson got uppity, quite opposite was the case since all such language was shot down in committee.

        And yes, illegals still get treated for emergency situations and we still pay for it. I only commented on the issue to show the lies and/or misinformation that was being spread by the Left.

        As for those greedy insurance companies, they operate on an average of a 4% profit margin. That’s pretty a slim percentage, even if the raw numbers are huge. There’s actually a pretty tight limit on how much competition they can withstand, especially if their actuarial forecasts are shifted as far as the rest of ObamaCare would shift them.

        Now, if we were planning on addressing Pharma’s margins, or the Ambulance Chasers and such, that’d be a different story, much like actually addressing immigration.

  2. Well, this is the part I was talking about is information from

    HR 3200, explicitly prevents illegal immigrants from getting “affordability credits” — tax credits for low-income people to buy health insurance on a national health insurance exchange. While illegal immigrants would be able to buy insurance just as a qualifying legal resident could, they would have to pay for it themselves without the “affordability credit” subsidy. (If you want to check, it’s on page 132, section 242.) That’s essentially keeping the status quo, in which illegal immigrants are able to buy private insurance on their own dime.


    But there are two caveats that keep the Republican assertion from being fully accurate.

    The first is if the tax credits are administered through the Internal Revenue Service, there would be built-in scrutiny. For instance, if a system were set up for taxpayers to declare insurance expenses and then receive a refund or a rebate, illegal immigrants couldn’t obtain coverage, “because illegal immigrants do not have legitimate Social Security numbers,” said Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a group that is generally proimmigration. “Screening out illegal immigrants through the tax system would prevent them from obtaining health care-related subsidies.”

    The second caveat is that language in the House bill does provide clear authority for the new government official who will run the exchange to set up that verification, as the CRS report notes.

    Rosenblum concurs. “The commissioner could enforce these restrictions in one of two ways: through document- and database-based screening requirements as in the Medicaid system, or by reimbursing health care expenses through tax refunds,” he said.

    So, the language for the verification system comes from that. It wasn’t set up in the bill, but the bill already noted that illegals are not to be covered. The natural progression, imo, is for the verification system to be set up when it’s in place. If they were interested in covering illegal immigrates, why would they now make any changes to the bill regarding verification?

    Another thing about illegal immigration is that it is always thrown into the mix to make people think twice about making any changes. “Don’t do it! An illegal might benefit!” Meanwhile nothing is actually done to FIX the problem of illegal immigration. And for the Joe Wilson “You Lie” statement to be true, there would have to be no mention of preventing illegal immigrants a right to the health insurance AND/OR there would have been language to say that they would benefit.

    That said, will there be illegal immigrants who try to defraud the system? Yes. Will some of them succeed? Maybe. But they are illegal immigrants, which means they are already breaking the law just by being here. Attempting to defraud the system for healthcare is incredibly risky, and I can’t imagine that many of them are going to be willing to take that chance.

    As far as the ins co’s margins, if the numbers are huge and 4% is all they profit from it, seems to me 1 or 2% would still give them a great salary. Their children won’t starve. I agree with you regarding pharma’s and ambulance chasers, etc etc. There are a lot of other areas that also need to be fixed. And if people actually sat down and talked these things out the way we are, instead of being alarmists, maybe some of these things could be addressed.

    • Yes, all that language is true, but Section 1702 of the same bill reduced all agencies ability to enforce residency restrictions relating to healthcare. Not only would this possibly lead to illegals getting affordability credits – doubtful to my mind – but it would allow illegals to get non-emergency Medicaid coverage, which is FULLY taxpayer funded. That is/was the basis for my saying that Obama’s repeated statement was a lie in the sense that was disingenuous.

      A 4% profit margin doesn’t leave much room to work with when you’re dealing with changes that effect the whole system. That goes way beyond just effecting executives’ bonus; that can kill off companies, which would result in even less competition.

      Sadly people aren’t going to sit down and talk about it for the most part and both sides are to blame for that insanity.

      • Why is it possible for other countries to have both private and public insurance, but no America? Isn’t that kind of how France is set up, and they are ranked at the top when it comes to health care systems?

        I’m confused about the Medicaid thing. I thought that they had a built in verification system?

      • I think it might be possible for America to have a mixture of Public and Private health insurance, the France’s model isn’t the one I’d favor; I’d prefer to plagiarize Germany’s model if we were going down that route since it works and costs a lot less apparently.

        A large part of the problem is timing. We waited too long. Now, upsetting / overturning the health industry would greatly harm the economy and cost a lot people their jobs, something we really cannot afford.

        As for the MediCaid, they do have a – fairly poor – built in verification system, but Section 1702 would reduce it’s effectiveness significantly. We had the same thing happen with foodstamps during the Clinton administration; bills got passed and memos sent that crippled the verification system.

      • I would have to do more research on the verification system thing. I thought that they were worried about American citizens access to the things that they need, such as foodstamps, or in this case, health insurance. But, I don’t know much about it.

        As far as it being too late to reform the system, do you believe that health insurance premiums are going to continue to skyrocket? Or that people will be able to sustain their coverage with the private health care co’s? Or, is it that you think that there should be no public option and that the president should only reform the private insurance companies, without creating a public option?

      • I think that premiums will continue to rise for a while at least, but I don’t think that the cause of such rise – past, current, or future – has its roots in the insurance industry. I believe it has its roots in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and in how Americans approach both health and illness.

        If we’re going to reform / restructure / regulate the health insurance industry, then that’s what we should do with all due caution and consideration. Towards that effort I can see no real – i.e., non-political – value in the Public Option as it is proposed. Personally I sort of think (not completely convinced) that the Public Option is nothing but inflammatory distraction designed to gets us to argue over that instead of paying attention to rest of this omnibus-style bill.

      • Honestly, I agree with you to a degree on the public option part of it. I remember when EXCERPTS of the speech that President Obama was to give to the joint session of congress were released. The parts of the excerpts addressed the things that he wanted to do in regard to reforming the private health care industry, (which sounded good to me) but didn’t have the word public option included. Many people reading the excerpts, (which took all of 3 minutes out of a 45 minute speech to read) went bat shit over the fact that he didn’t mention the public option. So really, it’s like many liberals view it as a fail or not getting what they want if the public option is not included.

        FOR ME, the fear is that without the public option, there will be nothing to balance against them. If there is no public option, there would have to be some laws that FORCES the insurance companies to keep their rates affordable, according to income. I also would fear it becoming mandatory to purchase private insurance. There could not be any possible loophole that would allow the type of rescission that we see today, or the denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Which, of course, could be anything that they dream up in their head.

        Where greed is the motive, I just don’t have a lot of confidence in the reformation of the private insurers.

        What do you think of this article:

      • I’m not sure what to think about that article; it doesn’t really say anything other than some doctors and hospitals want the Public Option, which makes sense since they want to increase their revenues and more insured people means more revenue for them. As you said, when greed is a motivator…

        And we keep coming back to the idea of insurance rates and their affordability. With only a 4% profit margin, the health insurance companies can’t drop their rates very much and still be in the black and I really don’t want to end up with only three choices – US Health, Aetna, and the Federal Government – for my health insurance, which I what I’m afraid would happen within 10 years if HR 3200 becomes law with the public Option and without a lot of changes from how it’s written now.

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