Insurers jockey on health care issues

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to release its decision sometime this month on the constitutionality of some or all of the Obama administration's health care reform plan that was rushed through Congress in late 2010.

Supposedly, only the nine Supreme Court justices -- and necessarily their clerks, we would expect -- know what the opinion will say, though there are some indications that it won't go Obama's way to some degree.

First was when Obama issued statements that were barely-veiled attempts to bulldoze the high court into giving the law -- the hallmark of his administration's domestic policy -- their blessing. Obama erroneously claimed that it would be "an unprecedented, extraordinary step" to overturn a law that was passed "by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress." The United States hadn't reached its 30th birthday when the Supreme Court ruled a law passed by a democratically elected Congress that would have packed the federal judiciary was unconstitutional, and determining whether laws passed by Congress comply with the U.S. Constitution has been one of the high court's job ever since in our nation's system of checks and balances of government.

If the Obama administration were expecting a clean sweep of endorsement from the majority of justices, it's difficult to see why the president would have made that statement.

This week, UnitedHealth Group, Humana and Aetna -- three of the nation's biggest insurance providers, a group that is no fan of the health reform law -- said they will keep parts of the overhaul law that have been popular with Americans, such as coverage of children until they are 26 years old on their parents' insurance plans, covering preventative care such as immunizations and screenings with no co-pay requirement and offering a simply process for appealing health claims that are denied.

In addition, UnitedHealth and Humana said they won't impose lifetime dollar limits on insurance policy payouts, a benefit to those fighting chrionic diseases and cancer, and they would not pursue retroactive cancellation of a customer's coverage except for cases such as fraud.

Again, it's difficult to see why those insurers (WellPoint's keeping its cards closer to the vest until after the Supreme Court ruling) would make those statements if the top officials in the companies expected the decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the law in total.

The law was implemented in a clever way, with the more popular aspects taking effect early on while the parts that the public might not be so happy with have been saved for implementation until well after January's presidential inauguration.

Even at that, a AP-GfK survey in February showed that just over one-third of Americans surveyed -- 35 percent -- favored the health care reforms passed by Congress in March 2010, with 17 percent strongly favoring them. Nearly half (47 percent) opposed the health care reform law, with more strongly opposed to it (36 percent) than the total who support it, according to the survey.

As we said before the reform law was adopted, it was a mistake for Democrats to push it through and ignore Republican input. Anyone who's dealt with an insurance claim realizes that the system needs improvements, but a reasoned approach that took the best ideas of both parties had a better chance of actually being successful and benefiting the people that Obama and Congress should have had in mind all along -- the citizens of America.

Unfortunately, when Congress has had spats of bipartisanship -- the small Senate groups Georgia's Sen. Saxby Clambliss worked with that tackled energy policy and federal spending are two prime examples -- the powers that be have ignored them, opting instead for fiascos like the Super Congress that proved utterly incompetent at addressing runaway federal spending.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Supreme Court's decision.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board