CNN's Carol Costello accused insurance companies of "preying on the most vulnerable people" in dropping doctors from health plans, even after CNN interviewed a doctor and an insurance representative saying that ObamaCare regulations made it harder for companies to keep doctors on insurance plans.
After the report by correspondent Chris Frates on an elderly woman who had to choose between higher premiums or the loss of her doctor, Costello lashed out at the insurance companies: "Well you know what's really scary, Mrs. Sabatino is well, right? She has the energy to fix the problem, but not all elderly people do. It's like they're preying on the most vulnerable people in our country."
Costello ignored the woman's doctor who did mention ObamaCare regulations, as Frates reported: "But the doctor thinks United [Healthcare] is trimming physicians from its network because under ObamaCare it's harder to drop patients."
And as Frates reported later, "The insurance industry trade group argues that the changes are a direct result of ObamaCare." Yet Costello was content to bash the insurers for "preying on" the elderly without mentioning ObamaCare.
Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on December 19 at 10:25 a.m. EST:
CAROL COSTELLO: You may have a favorite restaurant or even a regular mechanic but there may be no business relationship more valued than a long-standing partnership with a trusted doctor. Now a staggering number of older Americans are discovering that their long-time doctors are being dumped from their insurance plans, and that leaves them with some difficult and expensive choices to make. CNN's Chris Frates is with our investigations unit. He joins us live from Washington. Tell us more.
CHRIS FRATES: So, Carol, what we're learning is that because ObamaCare makes it tougher for insurance companies to drop their patients, that instead it appears that now they're dropping the doctors, and that's hurting thousands of patients across the country in at least a dozen states.
JODY SABATINO, insured senior: I'm decorating and I'm making the curtains up there.
FRATES (voice-over): Jody Sabatino is like many seniors. She sees multiple doctors and takes lots and lots of medication.
(On camera): How many prescriptions do we have here?
SABATINO: Okay, one, two, three, four, five, six –
FRATES (voice-over): Last month the 79-year-old got some jaw-dropping news. Her insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, is cutting four of her six physicians from its Medicare Advantage Plan, including her most trusted doctor. Dr. Lawrence Mieczkowski or "Dr. Mitch" to patients like Jody. The cardiometabolic specialist will be unceremoniously dumped from United's Medicare Advantage network January 1st with little explanation. Or, as United put it in a letter --
Dr. LAWRENCE MIECZKOWSKI, cardiometabolic specialist: UnitedHealthcare is amending your agreement referenced above to discontinue your participation in the Medicare Advantage Network. This amendment does not require your signature.
FRATES: But the doctor thinks United is trimming physicians from its network because under Obamacare it's harder to drop patients.
MIECZKOWSKI: Let those high-cost patients move out of the UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage Plan over to Anthem or Humana and let those poor suckers, so to speak, you know, pay – pick up the cost.
FRATES: United's decision left Jody and her 94-year-old husband Nick facing a tough choice. Do they stay with United and find new doctors or try to keep their doctors by finding a new insurance plan?
SABATINO: Dr. Mieczkowski has been my doctor for 20 years. No one knows me any better than he does and it's silly not to continue to go with him.
FRATES: So Jody went shopping.
SABATINO: This was inexpensive, this was expensive.
FRATES: And the plan she bought is going to cost her much more.
(On camera): Do you have any sense of how much more than will end up costing you?
SABATINO: These will be double.
FRATES (voice-over): Jody and Mieczkowski are not alone. The American Medical Association says United and other insurers have taken similar action in at least a dozen states. In Connecticut, for example, United cut about 20 percent of its doctors, according to the State Medical Society, and here in Ohio, the insurance giant dropped hundreds of doctors affecting thousands of patients.
TODD BAKER, Ohio State Medical Association: The patient costs a lot and United is going to those patients' doctors and dropping them. And therefore getting rid of the patient.
FRATES: United concedes it is reducing the size of its network, but declined an on-camera interview request. In a statement to CNN, United said, "Many health plans are making changes to their networks to improve quality and keep health insurance affordable. These changes are necessary to meet rising quality standards in an era of Medicare funding cuts." The Insurance Industry Trade Group argues that the changes are a direct result of Obamacare. To help pay for health care reform lawmakers included $200 billion in cuts to the Medicare Advantage program and a new tax on health insurers.
ROBERT ZIRKELBACH, America's Health Insurance Plans: Washington can't cut and tax the Medicare Advantage program this much and not expect seniors in the program to be harmed.
FRATES: Even though Jody Sabatino was able to find a plan that included Dr. Mitch, she is still going to lose two other doctors.
SABATINO: We're walking away from people that we've known and trusted and counted on for over 10 years, and that's hard.
(End Video Clip)
CHRIS FRATES: Now Carol, Dr. Mieczkowski tells me that the vast majority of his patients who are affected by United's decision followed Jody's lead, and got a new insurer so they could continue seeing Dr. Mieczkowski. And that's really not a surprise here. I talked to another of the doctor's patients who told me that if you looked at the directory of doctors that patients could go to this year, there's about 25 pages. When you look at what will be offered next year, that booklet is only five pages long.
CAROL COSTELLO: Well you know what's really scary, Mrs. Sabatino is well, right? She has the energy to fix the problem, but not all elderly people do. It's like they're preying on the most vulnerable people in our country, and it's –
FRATES: Well that's right, Carol. And what Jody told me was that she was very fortunate. They had a health advisor who Dr. Mitchkowski helped set them up with to go over all their options, because these are spreadsheets, they have a number. She's on eight different medications. She needs to find out how many are covered, how many of my six doctors can I able to bring over to this new network. So it is complicated, and she was lucky and she will tell you that I am lucky that I'm able to figure this all out. But it was certainly very stressful for her and for many, many seniors across the country who are facing a similar situation.