There is an article in the Isthmus about a Madison woman, formerly a health insurance salesperson for Humana, who appears in Michael Moore's film Sicko. The horror she illustrates is the reluctance of insurance companies to write policies for people who are sick or likely to become sick. She expresses her shock and disgust that the company wouldn't cover pregnant women. She is outraged at the notion that it wouldn't insure people who wait until they need to make a claim to seek coverage.
My first reaction to the story is to note the willful cluelessness of it all. The woman's sly reference to the "profit end" of the insurance business reminds me of Steve Martin in The Jerk who thinks he's uncovered some dark bit of genius in the idea that you would charge more than whatever you are selling costs. ("Ah, it's a profit deal.")Why would you expect an insurance company to cover people whose claims are almost certainly going to exceed their premiums. Insurance is risk sharing. If you don't get sick, your premium dollars cover someone else's care. In order for there to be money to cover people with larger claims, there must be people who pay premiums and do not have those claims. Whether the company is "for profit" or not may change the numbers, but not the fact.
This doesn't work well when the people seeking insurance have ready-to-make claims or are very likely to have claims in excess of their premiums. In declining to insure these people, Humana is not evil or greedy. If you can't understand that, I've got a proposition. I'll pay you $100/month for the next year and you give me $ 5000 at Christmas.
My second reaction is to observe that this fact, however understandable, is a problem for a market-oriented reform of the system. While we may be willing to allow people who are accident prone to go without auto or homeowners insurance and to bear the loss of their next fire or fender bender, we are not willing to allow people to go without some type of health care.
So, I have often thought, a market solution to health care would have to impose some rules. A libertarian solution won't work. One might be to forbid individual underwriting on basic high deductible policies.
But, if you are going to do that and you don't want health insurance to be a device by which people with medical problems pool their bills, you'd have to require people to be insured - probably by imposing an "uninsured" tax on those who don't buy this basic policy. Insurer competition would be on the basis of administrative efficiency and cost controls, not on trying to pick a "healthier" book of business.