For years, in public opinion polls, people have tended to blame health insurers for premium increases and problems with their coverage. However, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association representing payers providing health benefits for more than 200 million Americans, says it now wants to put consumers at the center of healthcare.

“We wouldn’t have had as an industry these conversations just a few years ago,” said Mark Ganz, AHIP chairman of the board during the opening session June 12 of AHIP’s Institute 2014 in Seattle. “My hope is that 10 years from now consumers will view our industry in a very different way. We’ll be recognized for what we always have striven to be—not a necessary evil but as a trusted partner.”   

Critics of the health insurance industry have long charged that insurers offer inferior plans that leave people vulnerable when they get sick. For decades, payers have had the reputation of refusing to cover cancer survivors and kicking people off their policies after an accident, pregnancy or serious illness-- just when they needed coverage most.

Now, these companies are trying to reverse negative public perceptions that they are only looking out for their own financial bottom lines, putting profits above peoples’ health.

“We as an industry—this great industry that we are part of—have the opportunity to play a meaningful role within a person’s life from the day they are born, or even before they are born, until the day they die,” said Ganz. “We come into this world cherished and we should leave feeling the same way. The focus should be on improving quality of life for the patient and their family, not just extending it, ensuring their needs and values are listened to and understood and allowing people to live with dignity and a sense of control, especially when facing a serious illness.”

Towards that end, AHIP’s member health plans have developed and are launching what Ganz called the industry’s most comprehensive and integrated palliative care benefits program—a “holistic system of serious illness care and services.” For AHIP, he said that this program is “not about return on investment, it’s about return on humanity” by creating advanced illness care that “truly honors patients’ wishes first and always.”

AHIP announced June 11 at Institute 2014 new services for health consumers including a lower-premium catastrophic plan in the event of a serious illness or injury, guidelines to ensure continuity of care during transition periods, and greater transparency related to benefits and coverage options. For instance, health plans would support continuity of care for specific transition periods: 30 days for individuals undergoing an active course of treatment, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, for a serious or terminal illness; and for mothers in their second or third trimesters of pregnancy, to include at least six weeks post-partum care.

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