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Open Letter to AHIP’s Ignagni: Meet with Victims of Insurance Industry

Tomorrow, Susan Pearl is coming to Washington, D.C.

She’s coming on behalf of her son, Ian Pearl. Ian survives on a ventilator, a lasting condition stemming from respiratory collapse he suffered in 1991. His premiums from a Guardian Insurance policy Susan bought in 1981 have risen from $100 per month to over $3,000 per month. And now, Guardian is eliminating his policy, calling him a “dog” in internal documents. In Ian’s own words:

I am not a “dog.” That’s what health insurance executives called me because I have a disease. I’m also not a “trainwreck,” another term they used for members like me.

After decades of medical emergencies, we still weren’t prepared for the latest crisis — this one created by the same insurance company that once saved my life. Guardian abruptly withdrew our health plan from all policyholders in New York where my father’s business is based. Guardian offered a ‘replacement’ plan with low benefits and no home nursing benefits. They knew that I would never survive with such a plan, but they didn’t care.

Suspecting that this action was related to the high cost of my care, we filed a lawsuit and have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enforce existing federal laws and require Guardian to continue my health plan. Without federal intervention, I will lose this insurance, and that would be a death sentence.

Our lawsuit uncovered insurance company documents that confirmed my suspicion that I’m a target of discrimination. The documents revealed Guardian had compiled a “hit list” of its costliest members, including patients with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, and paralysis. Guardian executives referred to us all as “dogs” and “trainwrecks,” and they debated how and when to dump us from the rolls. Laws prohibited the cancellation of the individual members with serious chronic health problems, so Guardian opted to cancel the plan for all members of this specific health plan in New York, an action that violates federal law.

Instead of living up to their obligations to Ian, and because they can’t just recind Ian’s coverage, Guardian decided they could make more money if they discontinued the entire product line, cutting off everyone on this plan in the state of New York, an action that’s perfectly legal.

Without this plan, which will be taken away December 1st, Ian faces bankruptcy. The care that keeps him alive will cost him $700,000 per year. All because of Guardian’s greed.

Susan Pearl is coming to D.C. tomorrow on behalf of Ian, and representatives from seven other families, all victims of the insurance industry, will be there as well. Why? Because America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry front group and lobbying arm, is having a conference in D.C. and all the insurance company CEOs will be there.

These seven families have sent a letter to Karen Ignagni, AHIP’s top lobbyist, demanding a meeting with her so she can hear these stories and understand exactly what the companies she represents do to people. From the letter [pdf]:

We have lost siblings who could not get health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. We have been overcharged, only to have our policies cancelled when our health care needs became less profitable for your members. We have been given the runaround in the midst of hospitalization and been forced to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills that your companies refused to cover. We have had to move back in with parents as medical expenses swallowed up our salaries and our savings.

While only seven of us will be at the Hilton on Thursday, we speak for millions who cannot obtain health insurance or who have coverage but still cannot get needed medical services.

Ms. Ignagni, we are not simply claims to be denied. We are siblings and parents and survivors who believe you should look us in the eye, hear our stories, and understand what you are lobbying against.

We’ll all be at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. at 3:00 pm tomorrow. If you’re in the are, you should join us. (Click here for details and to RSVP.) Karen Ignagni, you made $1.58 million in 2007. You can spare a few minutes to look these people in the eye and tell them why you’re lobbying to protect corporate greed.

We expect to see you there.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.