Singing the praises of major U.S. insurance companies is not a common pastime on these pages, but recent events require at least a stanza and perhaps even a chorus. Such is the tuneful news that several have decided that no matter how the
UnitedHealth Group, Inc. was the first to make that announcement and was later joined by
UnitedHealth's leadership in this is particularly helpful because it is the nation's largest health insurer by market value. Still more companies may follow suit — if only to keep up with their competitors.
So why do this at all? UnitedHealth CEO
And that, after all, has always been the point of President Obama's Affordable Care Act — to reform the nation's failing health care system, improve treatment outcomes and get more people under private insurance plans. While the polls show the public is often skeptical of what is loosely referred to as "Obamacare," many of the actual provisions of the law are wildly popular.
Unfortunately, one of the most critical element of the health care reform law — assuring the coverage of people with pre-existing conditions — is not something UnitedHealth or other insurance companies can guarantee will survive the Supreme Court decision. It would simply be unaffordable to offer that benefit without the individual insurance mandate. Or, as UnitedHealth noted, "one company acting alone cannot take that step."
There are many other measures within the health care law that could die on the vine with the Supreme Court ruling, expected later this month — an expansion of
If the Supreme Court throws out the mandate (or worse, the entire law), the consequences for tens of millions of Americans who either lack insurance or have pre-existing conditions would be dire. The chances of a dysfunctional Congress stepping in and crafting a reasonable fix to an adverse court ruling appear somewhere between zero and zero.
We have never claimed that the Obama health care law was perfect. It still leaves many Americans with insufficient coverage and it does too little to control costs. But at least it brought the U.S. closer to other developed nations of the world in guaranteeing that people, regardless of income, have access to decent and affordable health care.
That's why the law passed two years ago, and it's why Massachusetts adopted a similar model even earlier under
At least insurers understand what is at stake and that consumers want the reforms (although not if they are called Obamacare). The decision by UnitedHealth and its competitors to do what they can to preserve some benefits to consumers is welcome. Certainly, there's nothing partisan in the choice.