10.11.16

A relatively new way that health insurance companies are discriminating against the chronically ill is having an especially large impact on people of color.

That’s according to a recent column by Julianne Malveaux, an economist and President Emerita of Bennett College for Women whose writing has appeared in publications such as USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Black Issues in Higher Education, Essence Magazine, the Progressive and many more. Malveaux, who currently serves on the board of the Economic Policy Institute, writes in the Huffington Post that government leaders should protect Americans’ access to charitable premium assistance programs.

Health insurance companies are increasingly using bans on the use of financial assistance programs to reject patients with chronic diseases. She explains:

    “Some of the people who can’t afford to pay premiums need, and can find, a little help, are forbidden to get it by the fine print in their policies that say they must use their own funds, and accept no outside help. Meanwhile, the American Kidney Fund helps more than 70,000 patients a year with their premiums because dialysis on Medicaid is more onerous than dialysis on private care. Further, if you’ve been paying private health premiums for decades, shouldn’t you have the benefits of private health care?

    “Those who are affected by these policies are disproportionately black and brown. African Americans represent 13 percent of the US population, but 32 percent of those with kidney failure. The rate of kidney failure among Latinos has increased by an astounding 70 percent since 2000, and Latinos are 1.5 times as likely as whites to be diagnosed with kidney failure. While insurers may say they don’t intentionally discriminate, the adverse outcomes are undeniable.”

Malveaux also notes that health insurance companies continue to announce they are pulling out of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges because they aren’t making enough of a profit, even though they are raking in billions of dollars each year:

    “We’ve been down this road before. Aetna recently announced that it would become the latest insurer to pull of the ACA exchanges because they apparently weren’t making enough of a profit on the plans they offered. Meanwhile, the company as a whole raked in nearly $7 billion in profits last year – far above what even the most optimistic Wall Street analysts projected. And its CEO took home almost $28 million in take-home pay last year alone.”

She calls on the government to protect patients instead of creating policies that allow health insurers to discriminate:

    “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) should not limit the ability of charitable groups to provide financial assistance for low-income patients who wish to enroll in private coverage. Indeed, CMS should applaud it! After all, if someone has paid private insurance premiums for years and now needs help to keep paying them, CMS should appreciate organizations like the American Kidney Fund, who are willing to stand in the gap for patients who are having challenges paying their premiums.

    “To oppose this help goes against the ACA promise all Americans – regardless of income or health status – can freely access the health exchanges to select a private insurance plan so long as they have not already enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid. This rejection of charitable assistance to patients seeking private health insurance is yet another tool insurers have been employing in their efforts to push away sick patients, and it’s unfathomable that it might soon be supported by CMS policy.”

Insurance companies are currently targeting dialysis patients, but it’s a slippery slope. If they’re allowed to reject charitable assistance payments for kidney patients, who’s next?

Malveaux asks: “Will insurers find new and novel ways to eliminate patients from their rosters who suffer from ALS, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease?”

You can read the full column by clicking here.

Related reading:

  • “Saving the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t cost sick people their coverage”
  • “‘Do no harm’ to patients who need charitable assistance to afford their health care”
  • “Congressman to Obama: Kicking the sickest patients off health-care exchanges is not the answer”
  • “Patient discrimination hits communities of color the hardest”