Almost Six Months Into Obamacare, AP Finally Discovers Cancer Patients' Sharply Limited Access to Care

Sometimes the saying "better late than never" applies. This isn't one of them.

In a report originally time-stamped on March 18 (HT Sweetness and Light) and revised this afternoon at its national web site, the Associated Press's Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and seven other AP reporters found out that Obamacare is putting the screws to many cancer patients. Of course, they didn't phrase it that way, but that's the primary takeaway from their report. The story's headline was so weak that many readers who saw it on their computers, tablets and smartphones likely blew right past it without clicking through. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):


HEALTH LAW CONCERNS FOR CANCER CENTERS
("Centers"? How about "patients and their families"? — Ed.)

ObamaCare

Cancer patients relieved that they can get insurance coverage because of the new health care law may be disappointed to learn that some the nation's best cancer hospitals are off-limits.

An Associated Press survey found examples coast to coast. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is excluded by five out of eight insurers in Washington state's insurance exchange. MD Anderson Cancer Center says it's in less than half of the plans in the Houston area. Memorial Sloan-Kettering is included by two of nine insurers in New York City and has out-of-network agreements with two more.

Doctors and administrators say they're concerned. So are some state insurance regulators.

In all, only four of 19 nationally recognized comprehensive cancer centers that responded to AP's survey said patients have access through all the insurance companies in their state exchange.

... "This is a marked deterioration of access to the premier cancer centers for people who are signing up for these plans," Mendelson said.

Those patients may not be able get the most advanced treatment, including clinical trials of new medications.

And there's another problem: It's not easy for consumers shopping online in the new insurance markets to tell whether top-level institutions are included in a plan. That takes additional digging by the people applying.

Obamacare is failing to provide ready access to the information consumers need to become fully informed when they choose their plans. In other words, many patients in life and death situations operated in the dark at enrollment time. Exactly how is this better than the supposedly awful system run by greedy insurance companies before Obamacare came along?

Oh yeah, there's the "preexisting conditions" issue, which is supposedly solved. Well, let's look at a corollary to that:

"Patients may have fewer choices of doctors and hospitals in some exchange plans than others ... but the rules for such plans go a long way toward remedying the most severe problems that existed for decades," said Steve Weiss, spokesman for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

... (But) To keep premiums low, insurers have designed narrow networks of hospitals and doctors. The government-subsidized private plans on the exchanges typically offer less choice than Medicare or employer plans.

What if there is no cancer center of any kind in a particular network? I daresay that's quite often the case, given the fact that provider networks are often limited to practitioners in a single county. Alonso-Zaldivar and AP clearly did not address that issue adequately. Their failure to do so likely vastly understates the severity of the problem they were assigned to investigate.

As to the dispatch's timing, we're supposed to believe that it took the self-described "essential global news network" almost six months to figure out that the federal and state exchanges have severely limited provider networks. I don't believe that for a minute. Anybody studying the situation even at a high level knew that by mid-October at the latest, and those being victimized were quite visible by the end of January.

Sweetness and Light further argues that AP may have held the story for an otherwise highly distracted news cycle. The Tuesday-Wednesday timing of the story, in the midst of the Malaysian jet obsession, Russia-Ukraine-Crimea tensions, and the beginning of the men's college basketball tournament, seems to fit that template. Combined with the pathetic headline, it seems that AP wants to show us that they really, really did their job while minimizing their content's exposure and impact.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.