WellPoint's Company Policy: Drop Breast Cancer Patients

WellPoint might be the most evil company in the country: they stand accused of systematically dropping women from their insurance policies once they were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Reuters's Murray Waas describes the victims of this horrifying strategy:

The women all paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, none had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake.

They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators.

Once the women were singled out, they say, the insurer then canceled their policies based on either erroneous or flimsy information.

Federal investigators confirm to Reuters that WellPoint "has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies," and WellPoint admits that it has a policy of investigating women right after a breast cancer diagnosis. The company claims that the practice is necessary to keep costs down for other customers (and not, of course, to line its own pockets), and that it only cancels policies if it finds fraud or misinformation. However, the very fact that simply needing expensive care automatically triggers investigation should be a red flag, and regulators and consumer advocates alike say that in the vast majority of cases, there is no reasonable basis for the cancellations. Cancer patient Robin Beaton's insurance was terminated because of a misread word on a dermatologist's chart. Yenny Hsu's was canceled because she didn't tell the company about a brief hepatitis exposure as a child. Patricia Relling had her insurance terminated just as she was about to undergo necessary reconstructive surgery — she is now disabled and living on food stamps.

If all this makes you lose your faith in humanity, it should — sort of. To be exact, it should make all of us lose our faith that insurance companies are going to take care of our health. These companies are out to make a profit, and they're willing to let people suffer and die in order to do it. Health care reform may help, but WellPoint and other companies fought to keep restrictions on canceling policies out of the final reform bill. The door is still open for tougher regulations in this area, but, warns Clinton healthcare adviser Peter Harbage,

People have this idea that someone is going to flip a switch and rescission and other bad insurance practices are going to end. Insurers will find ways to undermine the protections in the new law, just as they did with the old law. Enforcement is the key.

WellPoint's blatant disregard for the health of its customers should serve as a chilling reminder that the work of healthcare reform is not yet done. We've made some progress, but all those worried about the government controlling our bodies should recognize who currently controls them: ruthless companies that will stop at nothing to make money. And unless we work to keep their greed in check, we'll all remain one computer algorithm away from disaster.

Exclusive: WellPoint Routinely Targets Breast Cancer Patients [Reuters]