My Turn: Truth about Senate insurance bill

Don't let Congress take away our health care coverage

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2006

Anyone who has diabetes will tell you that failure to properly manage the disease can lead to the onset of costly and potentially life-threatening complications.

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Likewise, ask a cancer survivor what is most important in overcoming the disease and you will hear one resounding reply - early detection and effective treatment.

Talk to a parent who is out of work or can't play a simple game of catch with their child because of debilitating, chronic back pain. That mother or father will tell you how important proper treatment can be to their entire family's quality of life.

Yet a bill working its way through Congress would take away these and other critical health care protections from many hard-working Americans and their families.

The bill, known as the "Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act," or Senate Bill 1955, attempts to expand health care access and reduce costs through the creation of small business health plans. Nevertheless, the bill would enable health insurers to bypass existing state regulations, resulting in the loss of crucial health coverage that millions of Americans depend on.

The bill would eliminate key health care benefits including screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer, well-child care, maternity care, emergency services, mental health parity, diabetes supplies and chiropractic care.

Proponents of the bill insist that insurers will volunteer to cover the services now protected by state requirement, but experience shows otherwise. For example, diabetes is not a covered service in the four states without a state law explicitly protecting that coverage. When this happens, it is not just people with diabetes who suffer, but also our already overburdened health care system.

Beyond eradicating critical state health care requirements, the bill would raise insurance costs for those who need it most, inevitably leaving many with no coverage at all. Contrary to the bill's stated goal of reducing premiums to allow more of the uninsured to afford coverage, the bill would raise insurance prices for Americans with complex health needs by lifting most state restrictions on how insurance companies establish premiums. Insurance companies would be in the driver's seat and would have the leeway to charge people more based on age, gender, health status or even where they live. Lower premiums might be offered to those who are young and healthy, only to skyrocket when they become sick or older. This would no doubt add to the ranks of the uninsured by making coverage unaffordable for those who need it most.

Medical doctors, nurses, chiropractors and other health care professionals - and national groups such as AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association and the American Chiropractic Association - oppose this bill because it is bad for patients.

As California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi - just one of many state insurance commissioners who have spoken out against this bill - warned, the bill would lead to "an ever-increasing number of people who are uninsured ... and for those with insurance, the benefit package is certain to be dramatically reduced."

The full Senate is expected to vote on this potentially devastating bill the first week of May. It is imperative that Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Ted Stevens vote against this bill.

We all want to make health care more affordable. But by taking away the tools people need to manage their diseases, or detect them in the first place, we're doing more harm than good.

• Dr. William D. Pfiefer is a member of the board of governors of the American Chiropractic Association, the nation's largest professional organization representing chiropractors and their patients. He has been a practicing chiropractor in Ketchikan for more than 20 years.

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