Nets ignore testimony of cancer patient denied coverage by insurer

Despite poignant testimony by people denied coverage for treatment of serious health problems, the network evening news broadcasts uniformly ignored a June 16 House hearing on the practice by insurance companies of canceling the policies of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments.

According to a Media Matters for America analysis*, the evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have not covered a June 16 hearing by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the practice by insurance companies of investigating the medical histories of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments, on the grounds that those individuals had pre-existing conditions. The hearing featured testimony from Robin Beaton and Jennifer Wittney Horton, former policyholders who stated they had been subject to that practice, as well as testimony from insurance company executives. Noting that Paul Begala highlighted the media's lack of coverage of the hearing and linking to video of Beaton's testimony, national political correspondent Karen Tumulty wrote on's Swampland blog: “The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a missed opportunity this had been. There's no way I could possibly tell Robin Beaton's story nearly as powerfully as she did herself. So I asked C-SPAN's omnipotent Howard Mortman to dig up the clip out of their video library. Please watch this. It could happen to you or to someone you love.”

In a June 16 post to's Swampland blog, Tumulty reported of the hearing:

In May, 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired registered nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, went to her dermatologist to be treated for acne. He mistakenly wrote down something on her chart that made it appear that she might have a pre-cancerous skin condition.

Not a big deal, right? It shouldn't have been, except that soon after that, she was diagnosed with something far more serious -- invasive and agressive breast cancer. Three days before she was scheduled for a double mastectomy, her insurance company, Blue Cross, called her and told her they were launching an investigation into the last five years of her health records. It turned out that dermatologist's note had been a red flag, and the company was looking for a way to cancel her policy on the grounds that she had been hiding a serious medical condition.

What Robin went through after that was a nightmare, one she tearfully described Tuesday morning in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee. “The sad thing is, Blue Cross gladly took my high premiums, and the first time I filed a claim and was suspected of having cancer, they searched high and low for a reason to cancel me,” said Robin, whose hair is just beginning to grow back in from chemotherapy.

The subcommittee took a look today at an immoral -- and illegal -- practice in which some health insurance companies engage. It's called post-claims underwriting, and you should know about it. Because you or someone you love could be a victim if they buy insurance on the individual insurance market. Robin got her mastectomy, but only after her congressman, Joe Barton, leaned on the head of the company. (This is constituent service, in the very best sense of why we elect these guys. But the best thing they could do is to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone's constituent.)

There were other witnesses, too. Like Peggy Raddatz, whose brother Otto Raddatz lost his insurance coverage right before he was scheduled to receive an expensive stem-cell transplant to treat his lymphoma. Why? Because Fortis Insurance Company discovered that his doctor had found gall stones and an aneurysm on a CT scan -- conditions that had nothing to do with his cancer, and that never bothered him, and that he wasn't even aware of. And Jennifer Wittney Horton of Los Angeles, whose coverage was canceled because she had been taking a drug for irregular menstruation. Now, she can't get coverage anywhere else. “Since my recission, I have had to take jobs that I do not want, and put my career goals on hold to ensure that I can find health insurance,” she told the subcommittee. “Fortunately, after my husband and I got married, I was able to gain coverage through his company's group health care plan. However, if he ever loses his job, or I don't have employment with a company that offers group health insurance, I might have to go without insurance.”

In his June 19 commentary piece, Begala wrote of the hearing:

It was as dramatic as congressional testimony gets. Yet it got no airtime on the networks, nor, as far as I can tell, on cable news, although did run a story. Time's Tumulty was all over it, as was Lisa Girion of The Lost Angeles Times. But the story did not make The New York Times.

Nor The Washington Post, which found space on the front page the morning after the hearing for a story on the cancellation of Fourth of July fireworks in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, but not a story on the cancellation of health insurance for deathly ill Americans who've paid their premiums.

Stupak, and the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Henry Waxman, D-California, did their job. Why didn't the media do its? Why were the outrages uncovered by Stupak and Waxman un-covered by most of the media?

Indeed, according to a Media Matters search** of the Nexis database, The New York Times and The Washington Post have still not reported on the hearing.

* Media Matters searched the Nexis database for ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS transcripts after June 15 using the search terms: health! or insurance or coverage or rescission or post-claims underwriting or hearing or subcommittee or (Margaret pre/2 Raddatz) or (Peg! pre/2 Raddatz) or (Otto pre/2 Raddatz) or (Robin pre/2 Beaton) or (Jen! pre/2 Horton) or (Wittney Horton). Media Matters reviewed all broadcasts not available in Nexis.

** Media Matters searched the Nexis database for The New York Times and The Washington Post after June 15 using the search terms: (Margaret pre/2 Raddatz) or (Peg! pre/2 Raddatz) or (Otto pre/2 Raddatz) or (Robin pre/2 Beaton) or (Jen! pre/2 Horton) or (Wittney Horton).