According to the California Nurses Association, California HMOs rejected one out of every five claims for medical care between 2002 and June 2009, reports Lisa Girion of the Los Angeles Times. That’s 31.2 million claims, or 21 percent of all claims during that period.
For the first half of this year, Aetna had the lowest denial rate — 6.5 percent; PacifiCare the highest — 39.6 percent. Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser each rejected 28 percent of claims, and Cigna denied 33 percent.
Although such high denial rates aren’t news to us, it’s rewarding to see empirical data that supports our assertions that health insurers tend to delay and deny claims until policyholders are forced to sue them to receive the coverage they pay for. Sure many denials are justified due to actual misunderstandings about coverage, but far too many denials are improper, and even oppressive.
The nurses association used public data from the health plans’ financial reports posted on the California Department of Managed Care’s website to conduct its analysis. “Every claim that is denied represents a real patient enduring pain and suffering,” Deborah Burger, co-president of the California Nurses Association, told the Times.
Typically, the health plans denied the association’s analysis of their reports, stating that “claim rejections reported to regulators do not always reflect actual denials of treatment to patients.” Maybe not always…but often!
DMHC spokeswoman Lynn Randolph told the Times, “It’s important to point out that a denied claim means that the patient received the medically necessary services, but the doctor or hospital was not paid for that care.”
But what’s the difference? Doctors and hospitals are going to bill someone. If the health plan won’t pay claims, policyholders are then forced to pay out of their own pockets. People don’t buy health insurance for the benefit of hospitals and doctors; they purchase coverage so that in the unfortunate event they face catastrophic health challenges, they can get the medical care they need without going bankrupt!
Both the insurance industry and the California Department of Managed Healthcare fail to appreciate the pain and suffering endured by those whose claims are denied. Try being seriously ill, enduring the stress and indignity of life-saving treatment, then finding out your insurer won’t cover your bills. Now that’s real suffering.
For a copy of the California Nurses Association analysis, go to http://www.calnurses.org/media-center/press-releases/2009/september/california-s-real-death-panels-insurers-deny-21-of-claims.html.