Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Unintended Consequences Strike Again

The June 1, 2008 New York Times had an interesting article about a Centennial, Colorado woman who wanted to purchase an individual health insurance plan from Golden Rule Insurance Company, but was turned down. She was in perfect health except for the fact that she had given birth via Caesarean section surgery (which meant that she might need to have C-section surgeries for any future childbirths.)

What was especially interesting was the fact that she wanted to purchasing from them, and they would have liked to sell the insurance to her. But Colorado state law prohibited the insurance company from offering certain terms:
Golden Rule, which sells individual policies in 30 states, said it would insure a woman who had had a Caesarean only if it could exclude paying for another one for three years. But in Colorado, such exclusions are considered discriminatory and are forbidden, so Golden Rule simply rejects women who have had the surgery, unless they have been sterilized or meet the company’s age requirements.
As a result, Golden Rule chose not to accept this patient for insurance.

This is an example of the sort of unintended consequences that arise when the government violates individual rights. In the case, this is the right of patients and insurers to negotiate in a free market to their mutual advantage. The legislators who passed this law undoubtedly thought they were protecting women who had undergone previous C-section surgeries. But in reality, the heavy hand of government regulation merely limited those patients' choices and violated their rights to contract freely with willing insurers.

If this prospective customer had been willing to except a 3-year exclusion for C-section coverage, they could have worked out a mutually acceptable arrangement. But the state law doesn't allow them to even try! And even if this particular patient might have chosen to decline that condition, there may be other Colorado women who would have gladly accepted those terms but are now forbidden from doing so by state law. We may never know how many.

Once again, government interference with the free market harms patients and insurers alike.

(Via State House Call.)