Category: I Hate To Say I Told You So…

The Beginning of the End

I received a letter form Anthem BlueCross BlueShield yesterday; it is worth reprinting in full. To wit:

Dear Daniel J Payne,

By now we are sure that you have seen several news reports that highlight studies indicating the potential impacts that the federal Affordable Care Act will have on health insurance premiums in 2014. 2014 will bring an entire new set of products to the market, with rates that will no longer be dependent, in part, upon an individuals’ own health status, but that of a broad number of people who buy individual insurance. As a result, some individuals will see lower rates for this new coverage in 2014, while others will see higher rates.

These changes will require termination of the existing products under which you are enrolled as of the first policy year that begins in 2014. Because our insurance policies have not designated a policy year before, federal law would require us to treat January 1, 2014 as the start of your policy year, and thus the date that your product must change to comply with the 2014 product design and rating rules.

However, to give you the opportunity to retain your existing coverage for a longer period of time, we have enclosed an endorsement which for the first time defines a policy year for your policy. The policy year has been defined so that your 2013 policy year will begin on your 2013 premium renewal date and end one year later. With this endorsement, the coverage under this policy will terminate on your first renewal date in 2014. This will give you the opportunity to retain your coverage for the full 12 months of your renewal period.

This policy year change has no effect on how your deductible, coverage limits, or out of pocket expenses accumulate under your policy.

Anthem is making this change to preserve as many options for you as possible as 2014 approaches. You will have the ability during the open enrollment period for 2014 products that begins October 1, 2013 to shop for these products. They may be a better fit for you, because of coverage, rates, or the opportunities for federal subsidies for products available on the public exchange. We will provide you with information about our coverage options closer to the open enrollment period.

However, with this endorsement, if you find that the offerings for 2014 do not meet your needs, you can retain your existing coverage until your first renewal date in 2014.

If you have any questions, please talk to your agent or call our customer service team at the number printed on the back of your ID card. They’re available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, Monday to Friday.

Thank you for trusting us to help protect your health and the health of your family.

(Emphases original)

I recall being told, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” In fact, I recall being told that numerous times, with an indignant, paternalistic pique, as if to question the very prerogatives and potential efficacy of this “healthcare” “reform” was ridiculous in and of itself. Why not just go with it? Yet this is what happens: “You can keep it” turns into “These changes will require termination of the existing products under which you are enrolled.” So it begins.

I confess I find Anthem’s letter itself to be nearly impossible to decipher; it’s a master document of bureaucratese folderol. This seems to be a large part of the problem: both health insurance and health care itself have become so dense and unworkable that one almost needs a translator to understand anything. Not to get all Strunk & White, but this letter offends me first and foremost as a student (and a lover) of the English language. Witness alone the first sentence: they assume that I have seen “several news reports that highlight studies indicating the potential impacts that the federal Affordable Care Act will have on health insurance premiums in 2014.” This is the a mouthful of mouthfuls: “Several news reports,” “highlight studies,” “potential impacts.” How embarrassing for them! One of the heavy hitters of America’s insurance industry can’t even talk straight. It reads like a ridiculous dissertation from the most narcissistic PhD candidate you’ve ever encountered. And that’s just the first paragraph.

Stylistically the letter is a hopeless tragedy. Yet one can usually discern a doctoral candidate’s absurd syntax after a few glances. I’m pressed to make heads or tails out of virtually anything in this letter, and I’ve read it probably a dozen times. Witness again the third paragraph:

However, to give you the opportunity to retain your existing coverage for a longer period of time, we have enclosed an endorsement which for the first time defines a policy year for your policy. The policy year has been defined so that your 2013 policy year will begin on your 2013 premium renewal date and end one year later. With this endorsement, the coverage under this policy will terminate on your first renewal date in 2014. This will give you the opportunity to retain your coverage for the full 12 months of your renewal period.

What on earth does this mean? A smarter person than me may be able to understand it, but undoubtedly a dumber person wrote it. I’m vaguely aware that they’re trying to tell me that I can extend my current coverage a year past full implementation of Obamacare, but I still don’t know what is going to happen, or what I’m supposed to do. They enclosed an “endorsement” that “defines a policy year for your policy,” but even that is maddeningly nonsensical:

Renewal Date
The renewal date for this policy is the date that your annual renewal premium may change for your policy in 2013.

Policy Year
The policy year for this policy begins on your renewal date and continues for a one year period from that date. If your policy’s effective date is on or after January 1, 2013, the policy year for this policy begins on your effective date and continues for a one year period from that date.

Say what? Was this supposed to clarify things? My policy’s “renewal date” is a day whereupon my “annual renewal premium may change?” May change? The “endorsement” helpfully points out that I “will need to refer to [my] policy documents” in order to understand what the hell is going on. Which part of my policy documents? They gave me a packet as thick as a cookbook and as dense as a pre-Tyndale KJV bible. So we’re going at it even harder now: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” has turned into, “You can’t keep your healthcare plan, it’s going to be terminated, you’ll be given a different plan, we can’t exactly say how it’s going to be different,  do the research on your own.” Marvel, dear readers: our worst predictions are coming to pass, and they are even more bewildering than we anticipated.

Now, some might think I am given to histrionics over this letter. This is not the case. First of all, I was lied to by the President of the United States. That is serious cause for concern. Second of all, my health insurance is apparently going to be cancelled and then reinstated as a very likely more expensive plan; I’m one of the Young Invincibles, and I’m paying bare-bones premiums for bare-bones coverage, something that makes Obama, Pelosi and the rest of that coterie seethe with anger. I was happy with that coverage and Anthem was happy to provide me with it, but both of us are apparently powerless to stop its termination. Now the health insurance I can afford with little trouble is going to become health insurance that I probably can’t afford at all. I guess I’m supposed to just grin and bear it for the Greater Good, or the Collective Good, or the Common Good. Color me skeptical. I suspect, in any case, that things are going to get much worse than a simple cancelled and re-tooled policy; I think this is just the beginning, or rather the beginning of the end.