White House health care summit 12:54 p.m.

White House health care summit 12:54 p.m.
  –Rep. Louise Slaughter now making a plain and succinct statement, “Pre-existing condition [as a reason for denial of coverage] has got to go.” It is not entirely plain, however, whether prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions is one on the short list of “commonalities,” as Rep. George Miller identified them, between Democrats and Republicans.

President Obama opened the meeting by calling on members to identify items on which they can agree, and to try to bridge differences where they disagree. After some back-and-forth over the morning, a rough consensus seems to have emerged on the former.

In regard to health insurance reforms–the topic for this section of the summit–items on which the two parties seemingly agree include the following:

1) Lifetime caps on insurance pay-outs should be abolished. A family faced with life-threatening illness should not suddenly discover that medical bills will no longer be paid by the insurer because the family has met its lifetime cap.

2) Annual caps on insurance pay-outs should be abolished.

3) Young people should be allowed to remain covered on their parents’ insurance plans, up to some age not yet determined.

A good start. As Miller pointed out, differences apparently remain as to 1) reviewing insurance rate increases; 2) denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; and 3) establishing benchmark (minimal) standards for coverage.

They’re all necessary. The pre-existing conditions trap is particularly lethal. Harry Reid opened with an anecdote about a Nevada restaurant owner whose baby girl was born with a cleft palate. She had surgery; the dad, a policyholder, got the bills; and his insurance company denied the baby’s bills on the grounds of –what else?–“pre-existing condition.”

How do they get away with this? How could a newborn baby have a “pre-existing condition”? The baby didn’t even pre-exist.

In the face of thousands of similar anecdotes from across the country, Rep. Cantor, self-satisfied, pronounces once again that “Washington” should not be determining what is an acceptable level of coverage or of health care. Cantor’s talking point, and he seems to think it a good one, is that “Washington” should not be able to define what essential health benefits are.

That should be done by the insurance companies–the entities who try to define meningitis in college as a pre-existing condition.*

Cantor et al. don’t put it quite that bluntly, of course. Today they are talking up the states–some of which do try to rein in insurance abuses–but typically without help from the Cantors in public life. More generally, when any such consumer-protection attempt is made within a state, Cantor and his ilk rail about chasing business out of the state. It’s an open plea for donations. Thus it is interesting, in this context, to hear Republican congressmembers touting the virtues of state regulation. They tend to oppose exactly the same kind of standard–i.e. any consumer protection, however minimal–on the state level as on the federal level.

One argument for some version of the current legislation is that any version will make for more openness and transparency in insurance negotiations.

For now, we pretty much have to rely on campaign contributions to tell the story.

*As previously written, my own newborn had spinal meningitis. I did not know until today that one of the Obamas’ daughters also did, in babyhood.

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