The state's largest for-profit health insurer is sending physicians copies of health insurance applications filled out by new patients, along with a letter advising them that the company has a right to drop members who fail to disclose "material medical history," the Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site.
"Any condition not listed on the application that is discovered to be pre-existing should be reported to Blue Cross immediately," according to the letter obtained by the newspaper.
One of the conditions noted in the letter that could force a new patient to be dropped by Blue Cross - pre-existing pregnancies.
WellPoint Inc., the Indianapolis-based company that operates Blue Cross of California, said it was sending out the letters in an effort to keep costs at a minimum.
"Enrolling an applicant who did not disclose their true condition (and the condition is chronic or acute), will quickly drive increased utilization of services, which drives up costs for all members," WellPoint spokeswoman Shannon Troughton said in an e-mail to the newspaper.
"Blue Cross feels it is our responsibility to assure all records are accurate and up to date for HMO providers," she said. "We send these letters to identify members early on in the process who may not have been honest in their application."
Troughton added doctors are not required, but rather can volunteer, patients' information to Blue Cross.
Doctors were unhappy about the letter, warning that some patients might hide any medical history that could affect their prospects of receiving health insurance.
"We're outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality," said Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association.
Blue Cross is one of several California insurers that have been criticized for issuing policies without checking applications and then canceling coverage after individuals incur major medical costs. The practice of canceling coverage is under scrutiny by state regulators, lawmakers and the courts.
Patients in a raft of lawsuits accuse the insurers of canceling coverage over honest mistakes and minor inconsistencies on applications that they contend are purposely confusing. Victims of cancer and other serious medical problems often are unable to get new coverage once their insurance has been rescinded, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Troughton said the request of doctors has been in place for several years and Blue Cross has not received any complaints about it. The health insurance company doesn't always cancel the policies of patients with discrepancies in their applications and occasionally offers them another plan, she said.
Lynne Randolph, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Managed Health Care, said the agency would review the letter. Blue Cross is fighting a $1 million fine the department imposed in March over alleged systemic problems the agency identified in the way the company rescinds coverage.
"They are playing a game of 'gotcha' where they are trying to use their doctors against their patients' health interests," said Anthony Wright, executive director of HealthAccess California, a healthcare advocacy organization. "That's about as ugly as it gets."