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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Guards take over the North Gate: The battle for the Asylum of Health Reform Rages On

In the battle for the implementation for the first provisions of health reform, I will continue to beat my inmates battling for control of the asylum analogy like an actual inmate probably used to be beaten in an asylum. In the latest battle, the guards or the government agencies like the Oregon Insurance Division have beaten back one of the craziest inmates.

This inmate in question is Lifewise of Oregon, a subsidiary of Premera, the Washington Blue Cross/Blue Shield company. Lifewise typically acts like Oz's Ryan O'Reily. They don't look very strong, kind of wiry, but are devious and will not hesitate to do whatever they need to win. Lifewise's interpretation of guaranteed issue for children 19 and under or no longer denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions was that they could wait until September 2011. However, the law states that this provision must go into effect September 23, 2010. The Oregon Insurance Division informed Lifewise that all new sales of individual insurance plans would be suspended until they complied with the law. Lifewise also needed to comply by the end of October so they could participate in the first open enrollment period for children 19 and under.

Lifewise's defense was "that it is in alignment with the “good faith” provision of the U.S. Department of Labor FAQ (dated 10/8/2010),which provides issuers a reasonable period of time to come into compliance with the requirements of the Act". In other words, they would be happy to comply but would do it later. This is the same defense that young children use to avoid cleaning their room, high schoolers use to avoid doing their homework, and college graduates use to avoid moving out of their parents' house. I think that only college graduates are moderately successful with this defense.

Technically, Lifewise files their individual plans in September which is why they though that they could wait until September 2011. They planned to continue to deny coverage to children under 19 with pre-existing conditions until that date. However, there is nothing in the law or general field of logic that supports this conclusion.

Forcing an insurance carrier to not flagrantly disregard a health reform provision should not seem like a victory. However, if Lifewise's behavior was allowed to continue much longer, it would have been much worse. It would have provided every other insurance carrier with a complete disincentive to comply with health reform or made the future riots even worse.

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