NOTE: This is the first installment of our series — Meet Your Insurance Company Executive: An Interview with Wendell Potter.
Yesterday, ThinkProgress talked with Wendell Potter, Cigna Health Care’s former Communication Director, about a common and widespread practice among insurance companies called “rescission.” As the former Cigna executive explains, rescission is the insurance industry practice of finding reasons — even reasons as flimsy as typos on your enrollment form — to cancel your coverage when you get sick. According to Potter, insurance companies are saving billions by rescinding coverage from Americans who purchase individual insurance:
POTTER: If they determine that you might have left out something that they consider pertinent on your application and might have indicated that you would have had some illness or might get an illness down the road, and you’ve been getting treatment and submitting claims to your insurance company, they will go back and look at that application and they will often rescind or cancel your policy even if you’ve been paying your premiums on-time, every month, for years. You will be left holding the bag with the responsibility of paying all of your medical care when insurance companies do this. They’ve been doing it for many years and saving billions of dollars as a result of this.
The Washington Post recently highlighted other examples of rescission:
Woman Lost Her Home Because Coverage Was Canceled For Condition She Didn’t Have. “For Teresa Dietrich, it was fibroids. The Northern California real estate agent was left to pay $19,000 after Blue Cross said she did not disclose a diagnosis of the benign uterine tumors. But Dietrich said the doctor who had written ‘fibroids’ on her medical record never mentioned his suspicions to her. The bills destroyed her credit and cost her her home – and, in a comically cruel twist, the surgery proved the doctor was wrong. ‘They said I had a condition I didn’t even have,’ Dietrich said. ‘And they canceled me.'”
Woman Saddled With $25,000 Debt For Not Disclosing Condition She Didn’t Know She Had. “The untimely disappearance of Sally Marrari’s medical coverage goes a long way toward explaining why insurance companies are cast as the villain in the health-care reform drama. ‘They said I never mentioned I had a back problem,’ said Marrari, 52, whose coverage with Blue Cross was abruptly canceled in 2006 after a thyroid disorder, fluid in the heart and lupus were diagnosed. That left the Los Angeles woman with $25,000 in medical bills and the stigma of the company’s claim that she had committed fraud by not listing on a health questionnaire ‘preexisting conditions’ Marrari said she did not know she had.'”
Woman Denied Coverage For Gall Bladder Surgery Because Of Husband’s High Cholesterol. Washington Post: “In a pending case, Blue Shield searched in vain for an inconsistency in the health records of the wife of a dairy farmer after she filed a claim for emergency gallbladder surgery, according to attorneys for the family. Turning to her husband’s questionnaire, the company discovered he had not mentioned his high cholesterol and dropped them both. Blue Shield officials said they would not comment on a pending case.”
Rescission is widespread – an investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found that three insurance companies alone (WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Assurant) cancelled more than 20,000 policies in the last five years.