Roundup: Stories That Remind Us Why Healthcare Reform is Needed

Rachel Larris

While Congress counts votes for healthcare reform, New Jersey debates eliminating family planning funding, and South Carolina's budget is tough for those with HIV/AIDS.

As we watch the vote counting in the House over healthcare reform some stories remind us why we need such reforms enacted in the first place.

Such as the case in South Carolina that revealed one insurer had a policy of revoking coverage for all HIV positive policy-holders. Reuters has the details:

In May, 2002, Jerome Mitchell, a 17-year old college freshman from rural South Carolina, learned he had contracted HIV. The news, of course, was devastating, but Mitchell believed that he had one thing going for him: On his own initiative, in anticipation of his first year in college, he had purchased his own health insurance.

Shortly after his diagnosis, however, his insurance company, Fortis, revoked his policy. Mitchell was told that without further treatment his HIV would become full-blown AIDS within a year or two and he would most likely die within two years after that.

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Faced with the possibility of having his health insurance policy revoked for no good reason, Mitchell sued Fortis (which later became Assurant Health) and he won.

In 2004, a jury in Florence County, South Carolina, ordered Assurant Health, part of Assurant Inc., to pay Mitchell $15 million for wrongly revoking his health insurance policy.

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell’s case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.

The details that have emerged showed that Fortis tried to hide its decision-making process of its “rescission committee” – which can be better known as the committee that decides which previously insured policymakers who are now sick who get their policies revoked. In Mitchell’s case, Reuters reports that his policy was revoked because of a single erroneous note from a nurse that said he might have contracted HIV prior to buying his insurance policy.

Like other major health insurance companies, Fortis has a “rescission committee” that reviews recommendations to cancel a policyholder’s insurance. But in the case of Fortis, Nettles wrote, the committee rarely did more than “rubber stamp” already flawed recommendations.

“There were no rules, no minutes, no notes, and, in accordance with instructions from general counsel not even a record of who was present,” the judge wrote about the committee.

During the meeting in which Mitchell’s insurance was rescinded, “there were more than 40 other customers, whose cases appeared before the rescission committee for review in no more than one and one half to two hours, representing an average of three minutes or less per customer,” he wrote.

According to [presiding judge, Michael G. Nettles, a state circuit judge for the 12th Judicial District of South Carolina, of Florence County], Fortis concealed information through its document retention practice. The company’s “stated policy for the last nine years has been to microfilm and destroy all documents,” the judge said. “There was also evidence that documents and/or records regarding (Mitchell’s) policy were deleted; and that telephone logs and recordings contained key omissions.” Fortis also “shredded” documents, he said.

Regarding another piece of key evidence, the judge concluded that “a jury could easily infer that Fortis destroyed and/or concealed” crucial evidence.

The story goes on to note that “no evidence has emerged that any other major American company purged policyholders simply because they had HIV” although people with other illnesses had their insurance revoked with no “legal basis.

But an investigation last summer by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as earlier ones by state regulators in California, New York and Connecticut, found that thousands of vulnerable and seriously ill policyholders have had their coverage canceled by many of the nation’s largest insurance companies without any legal basis. The congressional committee found that three insurance companies alone saved at least $300 million over five years from rescission. One of those three companies was Assurant.

The committee estimated that Assurant alone profited by more than $150 million between 2003 and 2007 from rescission.

Mitchell’s case is not the only news coming out of South Carolina regarding those with HIV/AIDS. The proposed state budget has a one-two punch of eliminating all funds for HIV prevention and all money for drug assistance for those who are HIV positive.

The State reports:

The current version of the state budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which starts July 1, eliminates all money for the Drug Assistance Program, which provides life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs to the state’s low-income, uninsured and underinsured residents.

The budget also eliminates all money for the state’s HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

Without the state funding, matching money from the federal government is also in jeopardy.

The cut would mean the 2,055 people enrolled in the Drug Assistance Program would no longer get help in paying for their medication and could face dire health consequences.

South Carolina is thought to be the first state in the nation to propose the elimination of its entire HIV/AIDS budget.

Meanwhile New Jersey is considering eliminating all funding for family planning services for low-income family. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Family-planning centers that largely serve low-income women would lose all of their state funding – $7.5 million – under the budget Gov. Christie proposed Tuesday.

The cut, one of many in Christie’s plan, falls in line with his clearly stated goal of slashing spending, but also appears to be one of the few early actions on social issues from a governor who so far has focused on making New Jersey affordable.

Michele Jaker, executive director of the Family Planning Association of New Jersey, said the cut could cost clinics federal dollars and would result in more unwanted pregnancies. She said studies had shown that every $1 spent on family planning saved taxpayers $4 in other costs.

“It makes absolutely no sense fiscally,” Jaker said. “Because of that, I can only think that it’s a social-policy decision, and it’s clearly out of line with what most New Jerseyans want or expect.”

The family-planning agencies provide gynecological care, screenings for breast and cervical cancer, contraception, care for sexually transmitted infections, and HIV tests, sometimes at no cost to needy patients, Jaker said. Some provide abortions, but he said state and federal funding had not been used for that procedure.

Bonus item: Turns out low-income girls are also not getting access to the cervical cancer prevention vaccine.

 March 19, 2010

Cracks appear in abortion front against healthcare reform Christian Science Monitor

Personhood proponents plan lawsuit Denver Daily News

Abortion funding offending health providers OneNewsNow

Ashford sees abortion epidemic Omaha World-Herald

Lt. Dan Choi Arrested at White House During Gay Rights Rally CBS News

Florida Senate strips controversial language from film tax bill Los Angeles Times

March 18, 2010

Holy War Erupts Among Catholics Over Abortion Language in Health Care Bill FOXNews

Pa. Student Free to Wear ‘Abortion Is Not Healthcare’ Shirt Christian Post 

House budget excludes state-funded abortions WACH 

Six same-sex couples ask NJ’s top court for permission to wed The Star-Ledger

Abortion bill remains stalled in Kentucky House KFVS

Poorer girls not getting HPV vaccine for cervical cancer USA Today

Abortion lawsuits proposed in Kansas Kansas City Star

Hundreds protest HIV funding cuts The State

Gay Men and Lesbians Barred From Some Clinical Trials New York Times

Harper approves ‘condoms for Africa’ but shelves abortion debate Montreal Gazette

Missouri Lawmaker Wants Women to Give Reason For Abortion Riverfront Times (blog)

Family planning a big loser in N.J. budget Philadelphia Inquirer

Insurer targeted HIV patients to drop coverage Reuters

FDA to reconsider policy banning gay men from donating blood San Bernardino Sun 

With Ban on H.I.V. Immigrants Now History, Relief and Revision New York Times

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Selects Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to Join His Ticket

Ally Boguhn

And in other news, Donald Trump suggested that he can relate to Black people who are discriminated against because the system has been rigged against him, too. But he stopped short of saying he understood the experiences of Black Americans.

Donald Trump announced this week that he had selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) to join him as his vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, and earlier in the week, the presumptive presidential nominee suggested to Fox News that he could relate to Black Americans because the “system is rigged” against him too.

Pence Selected to Join the GOP Ticket 

After weeks of speculation over who the presumptive nominee would chose as his vice presidential candidate, Trump announced Friday that he had chosen Pence.

“I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, adding that he will make the official announcement on Saturday during a news conference.

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The presumptive Republican nominee was originally slated to host the news conference Friday, but postponed in response to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France. As late as Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News that he had not made a final decision on who would join his ticket—even as news reports came in that he had already selected Pence for the position.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in a Thursday commentary, Pence “has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs.” Jacobson further explained: 

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a ‘religious freedom’ law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only ‘amended’ it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his ‘conservative values,’ rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

Trump Suggests He Can Relate to Black Americans Because “Even Against Me the System Is Rigged”

Trump suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he could relate to the discrimination Black Americans face since “the system [was] rigged” against him when he began his run for president.

When asked during a Tuesday appearance on The O’Reilly Factor what he would say to those “who believe that the system is biased against them” because they are Black, Trump leaped to highlight what he deemed to be discrimination he had faced. “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged. When I ran … for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system, and the system is rigged,” Trump responded.

“What I’m saying [is] they are not necessarily wrong,” Trump went on. “I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play,” he said, concluding that he could “relate it, really, very much to myself.”

When O’Reilly asked Trump to specify whether he truly understood the “experience” of Black Americans, Trump said that he couldn’t, necessarily. 

“I would like to say yes, but you really can’t unless you are African American,” said Trump. “I would like to say yes, however.”

Trump has consistently struggled to connect with Black voters during his 2016 presidential run. Despite claiming to have “a great relationship with the blacks,” the presumptive Republican nominee has come under intense scrutiny for using inflammatory rhetoric and initially failing to condemn white supremacists who offered him their support.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Tuesday, Trump is polling at 0 percent among Black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What Else We’re Reading

Newt Gingrich, who was one of Trump’s finalists for the vice presidential spot, reacted to the terrorist attack in Nice, France, by calling for all those in the United States with a “Muslim background” to face a test to determine if they “believe in sharia” and should be deported.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton threw her support behind a public option for health insurance.

Bloomberg Politics’ Greg Stohr reports that election-related cases—including those involving voter-identification requirements and Ohio’s early-voting period—are moving toward the Supreme Court, where they are “risking deadlocks.”

According to a Reuters review of GOP-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules, “as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds” a 2013 law that bans voters from casting ballots outside of their assigned precincts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the election goals and strategies of anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List, explaining that the organization plans to work to ensure that policy goals such as a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood “are the key issues that it will use to rally support for its congressional and White House candidates this fall, following recent setbacks in the courts.”

Multiple “dark money” nonprofits once connected to the Koch brothers’ network were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week after hiding funding sources for 2010 political ads. They will now be required to “amend past FEC filings to disclose who provided their funding,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum and Ben Weyl explain how Trump’s budget would end up “making the deficit great again.”

“The 2016 Democratic platform has the strongest language on voting rights in the party’s history,” according to the Nation’s Ari Berman.

Commentary Politics

In Mike Pence, Trump Would Find a Fellow Huckster

Jodi Jacobson

If Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn't inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn't understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.

This week, GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is considering Mike Pence, among other possible contenders, to join his ticket as a vice presidential candidate.

In doing so, Trump would pick the “pro-life” governor of a state with one of the slowest rates of economic growth in the nation, and one of the most egregious records on public health, infant and child survival, and poverty in the country. He also would be choosing one of the GOP governors who has spent more time focused on policies to discriminate against women and girls, LGBTQ communities, and the poor than on addressing economic and health challenges in his state. Meanwhile, despite the evidence, Pence is a governor who seems to be perpetually in denial about the effects of his policies.

Let’s take the economy. From 2014 to 2015, Indiana’s economic growth lagged behind all but seven other states in the nation. During that period, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Indiana’s economy grew by just 0.4 percent, one-third the rate of growth in Illinois and slower than the economies of 43 other states. Per capita gross domestic product in the state ranked 37th among all states.

Income inequality has been a growing problem in the state. As the Indy Star reported, a 2014 report by the United States Conference of Mayors titled “Income and Wage Gaps Across the US” stated that “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession,” largely due to the fact “that jobs recovered in the U.S. since 2008 pay $14,000 less on average than the 8.7 million jobs lost since then.” In a letter to the editor of the Indy Star, Derek Thomas, senior policy analyst for the Indiana Institute for Working Families, cited findings from the Work and Poverty in Marion County report, which found that four out of five of the fastest-growing industries in the county pay at or below a self-sufficient wage for a family of three, and weekly wages had actually declined. “Each year that poverty increases, economic mobility—already a real challenge in Indy—becomes more of a statistical oddity for the affected families and future generations.”

In his letter, Thomas also pointed out:

[T]he minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work; and 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).

Despite the data and the struggles faced by real people across the state, Pence has consistently claimed the economy of the state is “booming,” and that the state “is strong and growing stronger,” according to the Northwest Indiana Times. When presented with data from various agencies, his spokespeople have dismissed them as “erroneous.” Not exactly a compelling rebuttal.

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As a “pro-life” governor, Pence presides over a state with one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation. Data from the Indiana State Department of Health reveals a “significant disparity” between white and Black infant mortality rates, with Black infants 1.8 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. The 2013 Infant Mortality Summit also revealed that “[a]lmost one-third of pregnant women in Indiana don’t receive prenatal care in their first trimester; almost 17% of pregnant women are smokers, compared to the national rate of 9%; and the state ranks 8th in the number of obese citizens.”

Yet even while he bemoaned the situation, Pence presided over budget cuts to programs that support the health and well-being of pregnant women and infants. Under Pence, 65,000 people have been threatened with the loss of  food stamp benefits which, meager as they already are, are necessary to sustain the caloric and nutritional intake of families and children.

While he does not appear to be effectively managing the economy, Pence has shown a great proclivity to distract from real issues by focusing on passing laws and policies that discriminate against women and LGBTQ persons.

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a “religious freedom” law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only “amended” it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his “conservative values,” rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

These facts are no surprise given that, as a U.S. Congressman, Pence “waged war” on Planned Parenthood. In 2000, he stated that Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals and advocated that funding for HIV prevention should be directed toward conversion therapy programs.

He also appears to share Trump’s hatred of and willingness to scapegoat immigrants and refugees. Pence was the first governor to refuse to allow Syrian refugees to relocate in his state. On November 16th 2015, he directed “all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana,” sending a young family that had waited four years in refugee limbo to be resettled in the United States scrambling for another state to call home. That’s a pro-life position for you. To top it all off, Pence is a creationist, and is a climate change denier.

So if Donald Trump is looking for someone who, like himself, has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs, then Pence is his guy.