Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A gift

Think the folks at Anthem Blue Cross of California want health care reform to pass this year? They're acting like it. Anthem announced that rates for non-group subscribers will rise by almost 40 percent this year. The NYT profiles a policyholder whose monthly premiums have risen from $151 per month to $1,192, about eight times as much, since 1998.

And this story could hardly have been better-timed to help reform, with the President's health care summit only a couple of weeks away.

The question, and the challenge, is whether Democrats will make effective use of this development. Will enough Americans be convinced that this is the future of health care for all of us if reform is not enacted to force Republicans to back down from obstructing all meaningful change? The early signs are good, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking the company to justify its new charges. But Democrats have a history of failing to keep the pressure on. Now is the time to learn from the past: Keep pushing this story; make sure that all Americans understand what is going on. Tell them to write to their Senators and Congressmen.

And this story is not just PR. Anthem explains its rates by pointing out that the recession has caused many policyholders to drop coverage, leaving the burden on the sicker group that has remained with the company. That is exactly what economists have predicted if coverage is not mandated. So Anthem is a textbook example of what we are headed for without meaningful reform.

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