Health insurance companies: They ARE the boss of you

I like conspiracy theories. Speaking as someone who has to confer with three or four friends before deciding on a brand of toilet paper, I love the idea that there are super-secret cabals that control everything that happens to me. In some ways, the supposed control of the Trilateral commission, the Illuminati, the Hashshashini, the Carlyle group, and the Rosicrucians make my total lack of power seem understandable. With all these super-secret organizations fighting for world domination, it's easy to understand why I can't even get extra whipped cream at Starbucks.

That having been said, I also realize that conspiracy theories are total nonsense. As anyone whose ever tried to keep a secret will tell you, any group larger than one person probably has a stool pigeon in it. Besides, who needs scapegoats like the Masons and the Men in Black? I already know who rules the United States.

Insurance companies.

Think I'm joking? Well, try this on for size. From the Revolutionary war to the 1970's, U.S. citizens were the tallest people in the world. However, over the last 60 years or so, Americans have been getting progressively shorter while Europeans have been growing progressively taller. In fact, in the middle of the 1800's, the average Dutchman was six centimeters shorter than the average American. Today, that trend is completely reversed.

I would love to blame this on the fact that Europeans often build their nuclear reactors in the middle of cities. After all, it would be really cool if the whole glowing continent was getting bigger because of an Attack of the 50-foot Women-style atomic-era disaster. However, according to a recent study that was jointly conducted by Princeton University and the University of Munich, the actual culprit is America's lower nutritional standards and its lack of a health-care safety net. According to this study, the fact that 15% of American children have no health coverage, combined with the fact that the remaining children often have to fight for a decent standard of care, is partially to blame for America's shortness epidemic.

On the bright side, this means that we can stretch out in smaller airplane seats. On the downside, it means that, if you want to stare down a Dutchman, you'll probably need to stand on a telephone book.

Still not convinced that health insurance companies rule your world? Well, try this on for size: although most people would like their medical treatment to be chosen by their doctor, health insurance companies can, and often do, deny their customers access to a variety of health care procedures. In addition to recession, or policy cancellation, which I discussed yesterday, many insurance companies routinely deny claims as a basic money-saving procedure.

Claiming filing errors, lack of coverage, experimental procedures, or a variety of other reasons, insurers are banking on the likelihood that most clients won't aggressively follow up on the initial refusal to pay. Mary Shomon has written an outstanding list of ways to fight a rejected insurance claim, but the best recourse might be to talk to your state insurance commissioner. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners website lists the contact information for insurance commissioners in every state. One way or another, a call to your state's commissioner can help iron out your insurance problem.

So there you have it: in addition to making you shorter than your European counterparts, health insurance companies may try to limit your access to lifesaving medical procedures. However, you don't need to give in. Call your insurance commissioner, aggressively pursue your proper level of coverage, and fight the power!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He thinks that insurance companies are "The Man."

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