Adam Rice

My life and the world around me


The NY Times Sunday magazine had an article on wealthy, healthy Americans who are
uninsurable. In their cases, it was apparently because of A) an excess of honesty on their part when attempting to get individual insurance, reporting picayune details like a brief bout of tooth-grinding, and B) an astounding zeal for disqualification on the part of insurers.

This is surprising. I first got health insurance when I was 27 or so, and the carrier was recommended to me by a professional acquaintance who is an insurance broker. This company jacked up my rates 10%, 20%, even 30% a year, with my paring back my coverage until a year or so ago, when I just couldn’t take it. I found a new carrier that covered me with no exclusions (much to my surprise) despite the accidents I’ve had in the past that could turn into complications in the future. So it’s all the more surprising that these people had so much trouble.

Lots of interesting facts in this story. I was somewhat surprised to learn that only 15 million Americans buy their own coverage (I’m one); that’s less than half as many who are completely uninsured. Meaning that nearly all Americans who are insured get their coverage through a group plan. Perhaps it’s not surprising after all: my own insurance is what I morbidly refer to as the “don’t get sick” plan, in other words, catastrophic coverage.

Some people say health care is a right. My own opinion is somewhat less bleeding-heart. I feel that everyone who has the means to get coverage is responsible for their own coverage, but that a civilized society will do right by those who can’t manage to get coverage on their own. In a very imperfect way, this is the way things work in the USA right now. But when people earning six figures can’t find coverage, perhaps something more fundamental is out of whack.


  1. I’m one of those uninsurable. Blue Cross just turned down my application, citing my blood pressure as the reason for disqualification. Yes, I have hypertension. But this is treatable, and with access to a doctor it could be brought under control without a lot of expense. (Once denied I can’t reapply for some time, so I can’t simply fix this at my own cost and then go on their plan.)

    But here is the kicker. Between Blue Cross application fees and record processing fees to various medical providers, I paid nearly $100 for the privilege of being denied. Nonrefundable.

    Unlike auto or homeowner insurance, it’s just not feasible to shop around.

    Also, the numbers may be even worse. For instance, here in Texas there is a state contracted insurance risk pool for the uninsurable. It’s a high cost, low benefit policy that’s supposed to be better than nothing for these uninsurables. In the statistics you quoted, these people would be considered as covered by a group plan, not uninsurable.

  2. If I understand it correctly, according to that article, there are only 170,000 people nationwide in that kind of plan–and most of them are in NY or CA. Statistically insignificant.

  3. Those previous accidents “that could turn into complications” would easily be dismissed and denied coverage as a “pre-existing condition.” Just cuz you’re insured doesn’t mean they’ll pay for it. The health industry disgusts me. The Bush administration is enough to make me want to move to Canada; insurance is just gravy.

  4. James–

    As you might imagine, the question of how those accidents would be treated was paramount in my mind when I contemplated switching insurance, and is a big part of the reason I didn’t bother trying sooner. I did check this out with the new insurer beforehand, and they are not treating them as uncovered pre-existing conditions. I don’t think they can pull a bait-n-switch on me.

  5. I won’t cry over the “six-figure un-insurables”, but I do see the irony in this article.Our health care is one of many reasons to depatrionize.I think I just made that word up.

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