By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Denver area resident Robert Mitton Tuesday walked up to a mock panel of health insurance executives and asked for coverage.
“At the age of 15, I almost died from rheumatic fever,” Mitton told the panel, part of a street theater demonstration by proponents of a public health option, which was held across from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield building on Broadway.
Because of complications from the rheumatic fever, Mitton’s aortic heart valve needed to be replaced. He says he’ll need another replacement within the next few years.
“I have always been denied health insurance because of my pre-existing condition,” said Mitton. “I’m going to die within three to four years. Can you guys save me?”
The mock panel quickly went on to deny his application, arguing that he was too much of a liability. The production was part of a rally held by a coalition of liberal and union groups like MoveOn.org and the Service Employees International Union.
Standing beneath a light, cold rain in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, the group of about 60 protesters declared, “Big insurance; I’m sick of it.”
But Anthem Colorado President John Martie says insurers aren’t the reason health care costs have increased. He says premiums are expensive because medical care is expensive. As hospital visits, pharmaceutical drugs and doctor visits continue to increase in price, premiums must increase to keep up, he said.
“The demonstrators at today’s gathering have legitimate concerns about rising health care costs, access to health insurance, and the rising number of uninsured Americans,” said Martie. “I respect their right and responsibility to be active in helping to get us to the right solutions. What I am concerned about is that their ‘villainization’ of health insurers is so far off the mark.”
Insurance executives add that insurers were some of the first to recommend eliminating pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny someone coverage. They also add that an insurer is not allowed by law to drop someone when they get sick.
But if increasing premiums doesn’t have to do with the insurance companies themselves, proponents of reform are asking why executives are getting paid more than $8 million per year to run the companies, and why some insurance companies are paying $7 million to fight current reform efforts.
“I am sick of Big Insurance taking bogus premiums and then denying claims for nonexistent pre-existing conditions,” said Randy Chase, who spoke Tuesday at the rally. “I am sick of Big Insurance spending $5 million a week in a lobbying campaign that is nothing but lies and distortions about what the president wants to achieve in health insurance reform.”
The White House Tuesday released a report stating that the average Colorado family saw its insurance premium grow 114 percent, outpacing wage growth of just 46 percent. The average annual family premium for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $13,375 in 2009 — a 5.5 percent increase during a recession when inflation actually fell by 0.7 percent, according to the White House report.
Attempting to deliver a list of demands to Anthem, essentially calling on the company to “stop denying our care,” Thornton resident Ken Connell and others Tuesday called for immediate reform.
“They don’t provide medical care, they’re a financial service and they don’t provide value,” said Connell. “It’s just an exploitative business.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters