Outrage Prompts Blue Cross to Halt Info Requests

After a barrage of criticism from doctors, privacy groups and government officials, insurance giant Blue Cross announced Tuesday evening that it would halt letters it had sent to California physicians that urged them to report patients' pre-existing health conditions, possibly causing them to lose insurance coverage, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Doctors across the country seethed with indignation at the requests, which they felt placed business interests over the needs of patients.

"This is outrageous," says Dr. Arthur Feldman, chairman of medicine at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia. "The 'Blues' are sitting on billions of dollars while most cannot afford health insurance and 46 million have no insurance. This will require congressional action."

"This so simply and succinctly exposes what health care 'insurance' in the United States is: a business," says Dr. Joanna Cain, director of the Center for Women's Health at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

"For a business, this makes sense," she says. "For a basic service that more Americans every day are losing access to, that will impact the financial future of the nation with a less healthy population, and that makes us the laughing stock of the developed world for not covering basic medical care for our citizens, it makes no more sense than any of our health care financing schemes."

The doctors' reactions to the proposal by the state's largest for-profit health insurer echoes that of the California Medical Association, which blasted the idea Tuesday morning. Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the Association, told The Associated Press that the letter sent by the insurer asks doctors to "violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality."

Cost-Cutting Effort, Company Says

Telephone messages left with the press office of WellPoint Inc., the Indianapolis-based company that operates Blue Cross of California, were not immediately returned. A spokesperson for the company told the Times, who broke the story Tuesday morning, that the request was made in an effort to cut costs for members.

The letter that the company sent out to doctors clearly implies that these cuts would come from revoked medical coverage for members who did not report certain pre-existing conditions.

"We ask for your assistance to help identify medical omissions because you, being the primary care provider, will have firsthand knowledge of services provided or requested," the letter reads. "Within the first two years of membership, Blue Cross has the right to cancel the member's policy back to its effective date for failure to disclose medical history."

Doctors say the approach is flawed -- and could ultimately damage the trust between doctors and their patients.

"Personally, I believe it is another corrupted concept by insurers," says Dr. Joel Saper, director of the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor.

"While I understand the importance of that info to them, physicians cannot be asked to compromise the special trust and relationship we develop with our patients. We cannot be cast into a policing role to enhance insurers' profitability."

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