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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Free-Market Death Panels

Comment

"Death panels"? I'll tell you about death panels. My husband faced one some years ago, and it didn't involve any government bureaucrat. It was run by our private insurer, the sort of corporate entity that foes of health care reform say will give you anything you want.

My husband was diagnosed with liver cancer. We were "insured" by United Healthcare. The deal was as follows: You had to use doctors on its list, but if you needed specialized care outside the network, United's health-maintenance organization would pay for it. Fair enough.

A liver expert within the network said point blank that for my husband's case, there was but one place to go, a specialized chemotherapy program at Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Fortunately, it was only 50 minutes away.

But United Healthcare refused to pay for it. Instead, it directed us to a small, local hospital unequipped to deal with this kind of cancer. Our liver specialist warned, "Don't waste your time."

We naively tried to go through United Healthcare's appeals process. We would call the number and speak to a handler who said our case would be reconsidered. Days later, a one-sentence letter would arrive by slow mail saying that we were being denied, but call this number to challenge the verdict.

Around and around we went. We could never speak to anyone making the decisions. No one would even talk to our doctor, who at one point whispered to us, "Mortgage the house."

I became convinced that the insurance company was trying to run out the clock on my husband's life. Had it issued an outright "no," we would have gone to Deaconess, paid for the care ourselves and fought the insurer later. But it always pretended that a possible "yes" could be around the corner.

Having already lost precious time confronting this cancer, we simply rushed to Deaconess.

On hearing the story, the head of the chemo program told us: "HMOs don't care whether you live or die. They just want to save money."

My husband underwent the arduous chemo. Meanwhile, powerful people were pulling strings for us with the insurer. Upon learning we had "connections," United Healthcare finally said it would pay.

The cancer came back. This treatment was never a sure thing, but I often wonder how much the delay affected the outcome.

An ex-Marine, my husband was a tough customer. Toward the end, he said to me, "You know, fighting the insurance company was worse than fighting the cancer."

A year after my husband died, I was still receiving medical bills for some of the treatment that United Healthcare had agreed to cover. Oh, they eventually paid. The game is to break you down.

An economic note: In 2006, William "Dollar Bill" McGuire, CEO of parent-company UnitedHealth Group, walked off with a $1.1 billion golden parachute (on top of the $500 million he had already raked in) — though he had to return some of it in an options backdating scandal.

What we wouldn't have done to have traded Dollar Bill's minions for a government bureaucrat. The bureaucrat would have given a simple "yes" or "no" based on official guidelines. He or she would have had no personal stake in denying you care.

By the way, a government-run program doesn't tell you what treatments you may or may not have. It tells you what the taxpayers will subsidize. You are free to go out with your own money and buy whatever you want. We would have been prepared to do that. Instead, we got tied up in a private insurer's web of tricks.

Believe me, "death panels" already exist, and they have nothing to do with the government.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Comments

16 Comments | Post Comment
So a private insurer played games with your husband, and now its ok for the Gov. to do the same ?
My goodness I would think someone who went threw such a traumatic experience would now be a champion AGAINST death panels. Interesting how an ass on the button on your shirt determines what is right or wrong...
Comment: #1
Posted by: Patriot
Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:48 AM
"a government-run program doesn't tell you what treatments you may or may not have. It tells you what the taxpayers will subsidize. You are free to go out with your own money and buy whatever you want." SAME WITH UHC. They will tell you what they will pay for and you are FREE to "go out with your own money and buy whatever you want". But yes, a gov't run system DOES TELL YOU WHAT TXS YOU MAY HAVE and in some cases- i.e Hillarycare- it would be ILLEGAL/ black market- to pay for it anything the gov't doesn't cover.
Anyone that trusts the gov't over private industry has a) no knowledge of history and b) and even LESS knowledge of economics. There is nothing the gov't can do better than the private sector. NOTHING.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Monica in NC
Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:24 AM
My wife had a brain tumor. We went through the same thing. We need a system that will allow you to get the treatment the doctor prescribes. In her case surgery.
Our government already shows how stupid they are but with proper thinking we would have a better system than the greedy moguls of the insurance industry. It does not matter if the United States has the best medicine in the world if you can not have it. Our government shows its stupidity by not even considering the 700 billion dollar defense industry on top of two wars of choice. We can spend that money on machines of destruction but not on health. We need to turn things around.
We can spend billions on the war on drugs but not on health care. We can spend it on paying people not to grow crops. Our own representatives have the best tax money can buy. Why not our society? We are dependent on one another to build highways, fire stations, police stations, prisons. Why not health care?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Don Stivers
Tue Aug 18, 2009 10:33 AM
What you got was a preview of Obama care death panels. If your healthcare was too big and impersonal, why do you expect more from a governmental bureaucracy? And you know what your husband could expect from the Veterans administration. If it is not service related, then TS. Furthermore veterans were bright enough to get Waxman to agree to except the VA from all this stuff, because the blue dogs were smart enough to know what a mess would be created by
a gaggle of politicians trying to reinvent the wheel.
Comment: #4
Posted by: John Schuh
Tue Aug 18, 2009 12:13 PM
my dad died of cancer decades ago. His final thoughts were that there woul'd be a cure for cancer by now if it wasn't such a big business.
Comment: #5
Posted by: abby
Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:46 AM
my dad died of cancer decades ago. His final thoughts were that there woul'd be a cure for cancer by now if it wasn't such a big business.
Comment: #6
Posted by: abby
Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:46 AM
Posted by Angela
This mornings paper had the article on a free-market death panel. I was in the same boat as the lady whose husband had liver cancer. My husband had a brain tumor, a gioblastoma stage 4 - had surgery and followed by chem and radiation. It was a constant fight with United Health Care to get them to pay, every claim I had to call several times but the last big bill I had to make over 40 plus calls to get them to pay, this was almost one and one half years after he had passed away. Of course, our insurerer was United Health Care, they are know for try not to pay and their employees will get a big bonus. Not only that the big execs get big bonuses too. I thanks Our Heavenly Father when we moved to De Witt, Iowa and was put back into Highmark Blue Cross Blue shield which I have never had to call for a payment.
It scares me down the road what kind of insurance we may have to be put in, I pray that we are able to keep what we have and like.
Please tell everyone to keep calling United Health, as they are noted for trying to escape and wear you down that you get so tired you quit calling. I didn't and I"M GLAD I didn't. What a world we live in.
Thanks for letting me speak my piece.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Angela Mowry
Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:12 AM
All insurance policies have limits and exclusions. These limits and exclusions make insurance policies affordable. Most people find the limits and exclusions on their policies to be acceptable because their medical conditions never push the policy limits. For those situation where policy limits are exceeded, a high-option rider including either higher or unlimited liability should be available in the form of catastrophic coverage.
Although it may be difficult to think about, death will come to us all and expensive illnesses may precede that death. It is essential that we all think about the implications of our choices when purchasing insurance services and be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices. It is not responsible to expect to get benefits for which we did not pay.


Comment: #8
Posted by: Richard Helfrich
Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:20 AM
All insurance policies have limits and exclusions. These limits and exclusions make insurance policies affordable. Most people find the limits and exclusions on their policies to be acceptable because their medical conditions never push the policy limits. For those situation where policy limits are exceeded, a high-option rider including either higher or unlimited liability should be available in the form of catastrophic coverage.
Although it may be difficult to think about, death will come to us all and expensive illnesses may precede that death. It is essential that we all think about the implications of our choices when purchasing insurance services and be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices. It is not responsible to expect to get benefits for which we did not pay.


Comment: #9
Posted by: Richard Helfrich
Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:20 AM
What a great truth in your article 8/19/`09 about "Death Panels" and United Health Care . Is it not a true national shame and cowardice that our" elected" mouthpieces cannot muster up the same courage and truth to the voting (paying) public and call a" spade a spade" ; point out who the LIARS are within their own group ? Who is totally misleading them ! Just out and out LIARS ! I am truly remorseful at the loss of your husband and the delay can only rest in the hands of United Health Care insurance.

I had a spat, run around , admittedly not with such dire consequences, with United over the past several years as you did . Mine was over Medicare Plan D drug plan. With all their media, direct mail campaign I called the sponsor, AARP, got information on moving my plan up one notch , doubling the premiums, but providing much better benefits and being told this new plan would cover the drugs under the "doughnut hole" period. Their words ! (Keep in mine I also called United on their "800 #) I asked the same specific questions reference the "doughnut hole" period. Same lame telephone operators answers. You can go any higher than a telephone supervisor to get questions answered ! They will not give you any living personnels name, email, or snail mail address. No way to specifically address a letter to anyone personally at UNITED HEALTHCARE ! IMPOSSIBLE to get. Take my word. Now that`s a hell of a way to run a business isn`t it ?

Anyway, after turning up the heat with United by turning my U.S. senators office on them, E. Dole, [ I still don`t know what her office did or did not do due to her getting run out of office ; I never heard from them] OR threating to and telling them I`d be ice skating in hell before any of my heirs would ever pay them what THEY considered was due them in premiums, I returned all mailings " to sender". The dispute was over selling me a bill of goods for twice the price, but no better benefits ! I refused to pay after six (6) months figuring that was equal to what the previous years premium would have amounted to in full (12 mos. ). After 5-6 months they backed off ; a new year of provider choice came around and I DROPPED UNITED HEALTHCARE !!!!

Now I wish I could change them for another Medicare Part A & B provider as the 2ndary insurer !!!!!!!!!

I know some of your and your late husbands frustrations . I`ll bet you did not even hear an " I`m sorry" from them.


Comment: #10
Posted by: newton smith
Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:53 AM
The Big Lie being put over on Americans to force full socialized medicine on us is that our current system constitutes a “free market”. In fact, the allegedly “free” part is a quasi-private, government created and protected cartel of health insurance companies controlled by government.
The tax-code and regulation created third-party-payer system gives a huge government subsidy to insurers and disconnects the patient/consumer from the insurer by making insurers beholden to businesses, labor unions, school boards, and other third parties. Thousands of government-imposed insurance mandates (community rating, guaranteed issue, and benefit) have turned “insurance” policies into pre-paid wealth redistribution schemes. State-imposed trade barriers forbid competition across state lines. HMOs themselves were created by government (the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973).
A free market leaves patients, providers, consumers, and insurers free to contract voluntarily with each other to mutual advantage, based upon the principle of individual rights, without the kind of massive government coercion noted above. The absence of physical force is the hallmark of a free market. That is what the “free” in free market means. An insurer is bound by the contractual agreement signed with the patient, who knows exactly what he has purchased. The government's only job, but an important one, is to protect against fraud and breech of contract, and to mediate legitimate contractual disputes.
Our government-crippled insurance market has turned private insurers into conduits for government coercion. This is not indicative of a free market, but is in the nature of fascism…i,.e., socialism through the back door. The solution to the kind of harrowing experience Ms. Harrop describes is not to stamp out the last remaining elements of healthcare freedom by giving government total control, but to demand an end to the government interference that created our problems in the first place.
An accurate title for this article would be “Fascist Death Panels”.
http://www.principledperspectives.blogspot.com/
Comment: #11
Posted by: Mike Zemack
Wed Aug 19, 2009 2:40 PM
To Froma Harrop,
I read your article 'Here's the real death panel for you' in this morning's (8/20/09) Miami Herald. First, let me relay my condolences to you on your husband's death after what seems like a nasty battle with liver cancer and perhaps an even nastier battle with the insurance company: United Healthcare/United Health Group. I applaud you for writing the article and applaud the Miami Herald and Creators.com for printing it.
My response is unique and is the first time I've ever gone public with one of my 'judgments'. You mentioned that United Health Group CEO William 'Dollar Bill' McGuire "walked off with a $1.1 billion golden parachute (on top of the $500 million he had already raked in) ." Upon consideration of this henious crime, I found Mr. McGuire guilty of 'deplorable greed & crimes against humanity' and sentenced him to 1,000 years as a cow and then continued reincarnations as a poor & sickly human for another 1,000 years. Others in the company are also guilty of being culpable in this crime and receive lesser punishments. I don't know what your religious beliefs are, but most people believe that their is a God, there will be a Judgment Day, and his judgements are just. Would you agree that the verdict against William McGuire is just?
Through scientific method, it has been confirmed that we all pass through eternity through reincarnation and that karma is a reality. If you or anyone questions my ability in the real world to successfully pass these judgments (which I've been doing now for 7 years), consider that I've produced the "book/scroll" with the "7 seals" from 'The Revelation' 5:1-10:10. According to the Bible, only the Christ can produce this. (2 of the 7 seals can be read if you search for 'Brad Watson' in NASA's website).
The Health Care system in this country is based on exploiting money from the sick. Does anyone think that if there is a God, that He would allow this to go on unpunished?! There should be 3 alternatives regarding paying for healthcare in the US & every country: (1) private insurance companies, (2) government-run insurance plan, (3) reduced pricing for cash payment & agreeing in writing ahead of treatment not to sue.

- Brad Watson, Miami, FL MiamiWorldPerc@netzero.com
Comment: #12
Posted by: Brad Watson
Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:23 AM
I would like to point out that an insurance company is in business to sell insurance. UHC , or agents representing UHC,went to your or your husbands employers and tried to sell them all the insurance they could.The employer made the decision re level of coverage, not UHC.
I would also like to point out that, as a former Marine, your husband was eligible for "single payer" government health care through the VA.Instead of taking adavantage of this, he opted for private sector healthcare.

I wonder why....

My condolences on your loss
Comment: #13
Posted by: oliver c menton
Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:48 AM
My condolences to Froma Harrop for the courageous battle she and her late husband fought against UnitedHealth Group. She is not alone, and millions of Americans share her frustrations. After more than five years as a Medicare beneficiary, I find it difficult to recall the angst experienced when my company changed insurance plans almost annually in an attempt to control rising premiums, then determining which of our physicians that were “in-network” with the prior carrier also were in network with the new carrier. And, I had to time my own retirement to ensure that I could cover my wife through COBRA until she reached age 65 and enrolled in Medicare.

2006 data from the World Health Organization shows that the United States ranks last among 13 major developed countries in average life expectancy at 78.0 years, but first in health expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product at 15.3 percent. With nearly 46 million residents that lack health insurance, America is the disgrace of the developed world when it comes to health care. We do not receive value for our money.

Yet, instead of asking why the Japanese attain an average life expectancy of 83.0 years while spending only 7.9 percent of GDP on healthcare, the reform rhetoric instead raises fears of Medicare “death panels” and a government run insurance plan that would crowd out private insurers. Let me postulate my own hypotheses for your consideration:
• Insurance oligopolies are not a vehicle that will contain health care costs while improving outcomes.
• America's most efficiently administered health insurance plan is Medicare, a good example of a public sector program run by private sector companies.
• Real healthcare reform is long past due and will require a uniquely American solution with government oversight and private sector operations.
Comment: #14
Posted by: John Dalton
Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:32 PM
I have worked with medical insurance companies for over 25 years and I could write a book, perhaps title it "The Book of Horrors." Once one of our physicians was called to consult a 7-year old who was hospitalized with complications of AIDS. He was enrolled in a Medicaid HMO. Why HMO? Because his poor grandma who was his legal guardian since his mother was in jail for cocaine use/distribution and passed the HIV to him, was bamboozled by the brother of the child's pediatrician who sold these plans, to sign on. As it turned out, the pediatrician would give his brother the lists of patients on Medicaid and he would go and sign them on the HMO for whom he and his brother worked. To make a long story short, we and all other physicians on the case started to receive letters from this HMO that the child should be released from the hospital because his care was too expensive. The child was critical and could not even be moved from the PICU. He went into renal failure and we needed to start him dialysis. After three weeks, every doctor received a FINAL letter from the HMO saying that no further payment would be made, period. I wrote back that the case was moot since the child had expired that morning. Needless to say, all my physicians got off that HMO and never again did we take a case from them. Eventually, they were sold to another company for a gazillion dollars and the owners are probably retired in the Bahamas living the high life. Is this what we call free choice or good medicine? This is a joke. We have one of two very different avenues to fix our healthcare system: we have universal healthcare paid by our taxes, just like we pay for public education, or we have a true capitalist system where government gets out of the way and there is true competition for our healthcare dolllars. The mix that we have now is a very bad one. Would our politicians have the necessary cojones to fix our healthcare system? I hope so because the current system is BAD and unsustainable.
Comment: #15
Posted by: marilyn
Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:58 AM
I am so sorry to hear about your husband. One thing baffles me about this story, however. Aren't all veterans/military personnel eligible for medical treatment through the VA? Why even bother with private insurance? Did the VA Hospital turn him away? We truly need a public insurance option.
Comment: #16
Posted by: Patti
Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:30 AM
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