Another reason why

Nicholas Kristof’s column in today’s NY Times describes in a few words,the devastating experience of friends of his, whose insurer cut them off in the midst of cancer treatment for the wife.

“The policy allowed it to cut Jan off because she suffered from a “chronic condition.” It stopped paying her bills in January, Zack [the husband] says.

I reached Sophie Walker, the group head of claims for InterGlobal. She said she couldn’t talk about an individual case. But she explained in an e-mail message that with a “chronic condition” the policies can have a much lower limit, $85,000, on lifetime claims. That’s the limit that Jan ran into in January, Zack says.

Then Ms. Walker gave me the company’s definition of “chronic” (you couldn’t make this up):

“Chronic means a medical condition which has at least one of the following characteristics: has no known cure; is likely to recur; requires palliative treatment; needs prolonged monitoring/ treatment; is permanent; requires specialist training/rehabilitation; is caused by changes to the body that cannot be reversed.”

That sounds like a spoof from “The Daily Show.” To translate: We’ll pay for care unless you get sick with just about anything that might be expensive. Then we’ll cut you off at the knees.

I asked InterGlobal if this was an accurate translation. I noted that by its definition, cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, tennis elbow and even athlete’s foot seemed to be “chronic.” I also asked InterGlobal to name any serious disease that it did not consider “chronic.”

The next e-mail message came back from the company’s chief executive, Stephen Hartigan, who sent his “kind regards” but added that because he was “disappointed” at the tone of my inquiries, the company would have no further comment.

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