Firing Your Insurance Company Is Not The Basis Of A Workable Health Insurance System

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 9 2012 1:47 PM

Firing Your Insurance Company  Is Not The Basis Of A Workable Health Insurance System

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney joins volounteer to call potential voters at his New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 9, 2012.

Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

When Mitt Romney decided to use a flagrantly out of context quote to slam Barack Obama, he tempted karma and now some progressive groups are pretending to believe that this is a video clip of Romney saying that he enjoys firing people:

In context, what he's clearly saying is that the problem with the health insurance market is that it's too difficult for an unhappy customer to firer his insurance company. This is not at all what he's being attacked for saying. But the logic of his remark points straight toward ObamaCare, Old RomneyCare, and the dread individual mandate. People tend to bop along, more or less happy with their health insurance coverage, and then they get sick. Suddenly it turns out that their insurer is not that interested in expending vast sums of money on the most aggressive possible forms of treatment. They won't cover this, they won't cover that, it's a bummer. But you can't just get sick, get denied coverage, fire your insurance company and then go buy a better policy. That's not insurance.

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It's true that if you have a system of competing, regulated, subsidized private insurers organized into a marketplace with an individual mandate (remember that idea) that insurance companies with very bad customer service may get fired. But that's basically a tiny detail. The beef people have with insurance companies is that they won't cover everything patients wish was covered. But there's just no way around that.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.