Stop letting insurance companies practice medicine

Doctors go through a lengthy period of education and training before they are certified to practice medicine.

So why are insurance company bureaucrats routinely able to second-guess or overrule doctors’ orders?

Rekha Basu’s column from the Sunday Des Moines Register provides another shameful example of this common practice. Last December, Angela Ira’s 18-year-old son Nicholas, who had a history of depression, severe anxiety and borderline agoraphobia, was suicidal.

Scared and desperate, she said she persuaded him to go with her to the hospital emergency room, though he fears leaving the house. The doctor threatened to have him involuntarily committed if he didn’t agree, said Ira. She finally talked him into it. But half an hour later, the doctor returned to say the insurance company refused to pay. […]

Magellan’s clinical director, Steve Johnson, said he couldn’t discuss individual cases. But in the letter to Nicholas mailed last Dec. 10, Magellan cited as reasons for the non-authorization:

– “You do not appear to be a danger to yourself or others, and you are capable of activities of daily living.”

– “The information provided supports that other services will meet your treatment needs.”

– “You no longer have the symptoms and/or behaviors you had on admission, and you have shown progress in meeting your treatment goals.”

How could the company determine, when Nicholas’ doctor was saying he was suicidal, that he was making progress toward goals? The letter said, “If we disagreed with your provider’s clinical decision, we consulted with a licensed psychiatrist or other qualified professional and recommended an alternate service.”

As if someone who hadn’t met or spoken to the patient could better understand his needs than the doctor treating him.

Conservatives love to demagogue about “government-run health care,” but I notice that they don’t seem bothered when insurance company employees deny access to treatment recommended by the patient’s own doctor.

Basu’s column is a reminder that even Americans who have private health insurance are often forced to go without medical care they need.

Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress need to stop insurance companies from substituting their judgment for that of doctors. This needs to be part of a broader universal health care package.

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board again called for single-payer health care reform in an unsigned editorial today:

Our view: What’s needed is a government-administered health-insurance program – similar to Medicare, which covers seniors and disabled people – available to all Americans.

A single system could reduce administrative expenses associated with facilitating thousands of different private health-insurance plans in this country. It could increase leverage for negotiating lower prices. It could facilitate the expansion of electronic medical records, which would streamline paperwork and help prevent costly medical errors. It would boost the country’s economy in the long run.

Every health care delivery system has its flaws, but on balance I agree that a Canadian-style single-payer system would serve this country well. A few days ago DCblogger chided me for my “defeatism” about the prospects for enacting single-payer. I stand by my assessment, though. Even if President Obama were fully committed to “Medicare for all,” getting HR 676 through Congress would be extremely difficult. But Obama has not endorsed single-payer and is not going to put his political weight behind it, even if 93 members of Congress have co-sponsored the bill.

This is an open thread for any comments related to health care or health care reform proposals.

UPDATE: The latest from nyceve continues to make the case for single-payer, with lots of statistics on the high cost of our for-profit health insurance industry. Naughty Max Baucus: “The only thing that’s not on the table is a single-payer system.”

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