Recently, I got a message from moveon.org that tried to list some common “pre-existing conditions.” Here’s their list:
AIDS/HIV, acid reflux, acne, alcohol or drug abuse with recent treatment, Alzheimer’s/dementia, anorexia, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, bipolar disorder, breast cancer, bulimia, bypass surgery, C-section, celiac disease, cerebral palsy, cervical cancer, colon cancer, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, heartburn, hemophilia, hepatitis, high cholesterol, hysterectomy, kidney disease/renal failure, kidney stones, leukemia, lung cancer, lupus, lyme disease, lymphoma, mental health issues, migraines, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, narcolepsy, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, organ transplant, pacemaker, paralysis, paraplegia, Parkinson’s disease, pregnancy, rape, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, seizures, sexual assault, “sexual deviation or disorder,” skin cancer, sleep apnea, stroke, ulcers … and that’s not all.
Making a list is the wrong way to understand it, because “pre-existing condition” is an artificial category created by and for the insurance industry. Basically, the health insurance industry is very much like Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
For example, we might look at a couple of 6 year old boys, very similar in most respects, who are both diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. The main difference is that the parents of one had health insurance from work and the other did not. The second boy’s parents perhaps had been laid off earlier and had no health insurance. Although they both have the same medical condition, one boy does not have a pre-existing condition and the other does not.
But wait, as too many infomercials have said, there’s more!
Let’s say the business employing the first boy’s parents fails, for whatever reason, to pay the premiums for their employees health insurance. It could be the business goes bankrupt. It could be the accountant absconded with the money. It could be simple incompetence. Maybe the insurer goes bankrupt. or maybe the insurance company simply changes their list of what conditions and treatments they will cover. If for any reason the insurance coverage in effect when the first boy was diagnosed with leukemia lapses – now that boy has suddenly developed a pre-existing condition, too.
Any medical condition can, as a result of private health insurance terms, suddenly become a pre-existing condition. It means whatever the insurance industry says it means. The question really is, who is to be the master.
We might find some satisfaction in thinking the private health insurance industry is headed for a great fall. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. Now, if we insist on universal health care also known as Medicare for All, we can push Humpty Dumpty off of his wall. If we do not, then we are each headed for our own personal list of pre-existing conditions.