Still on hold for answer on health-insurance premiums

You probably don’t like your health-insurance premiums going up, and that part of the additional money that you’re paying is being used to lobby Congress to keep the U.S. health-care system in the Dark Ages.
Be careful trying to get that message across to your insurance company. You might end up in jail.

“To us, Anthem is not interested in health care. They’re not interested in really trying to figure out how everybody can get good health care, how every woman, man and child in this country can get health care. They’re not working toward that goal. They’re interested in maxmizing their profits,” said Joe Szakos, the executive director of the Charlottesville-based Virginia Organizing Project, who was arrested last week trying to speak with someone from Anthem about why the Project’s health-insurance premiums had been increased 14.1 percent in June.

During a protest on the sidewalk in front of the Anthem office, Szakos and three VOP board members, Janice “Jay” Johnson, Sandra Cook and Jodi Mincemoyer, approached the doors to the office to try to raise the question face-to-face with someone from Anthem. They found the inside door locked, and were told by an employee through the locked door that they’d have to call the company’s customer-service line to have their issue addressed.

While on hold, Szakos was arrested for trespassing and taken to the Henrico County Jail. He faces a Sept. 22 trial on the trespassing charge.

“I was still on hold!” Szakos said to me by phone this morning, still incredulous at what had transpired.

Szakos said the Virginia Organizing Project spends $25,000 a month on health insurance for its employees. The 14.1 percent increase that went into effect June 1 added $40,000 a year to the Project’s bottom-line insurance costs.

An estimated one-third of insurance-premium costs go to overhead and cost-of-doing-business line items like campaign contributions and lobbying. Szakos said he had planned to raise issue with the last two items listed there in particular. “We wanted to find out why they increased our rates, and why they’re using our money to lobby Congress to do things we don’t believe in. We don’t think our money should go to things like that,” Szakos said.

“If you look at poll after poll after poll, three in four people favor some kind of public option, because if you look at it right now, you get stuck,” Szakos said. “They raise that rate, and if you want to switch companies mid-calendar year, you lose all the deductibles you’ve dealt with, you put ourselves in a potential bind regarding pre-existing conditions. So it’s not like you can just say, Oh, I’m going to quit shopping at this grocery store, because I don’t like their bread anymore, I’m going to start going this other one. It’s not easy to switch over.

“In our case, we have 36 families, their providers, the paperwork and everything. So in a lot of ways the companies really trap you where you are,” Szakos said.

The customer-service representative never did get Szakos in touch with the person he was on hold for, incidentally.

 

– Column by Chris Graham



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