You Can Insure Just Your Child ... for a Price

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Sorry, kid, no individual insurance policy for you. Credit: Getty Images

Slowly, the man in the pinstripe suit raised the corners of his mouth in a self-satisfied smile.

"Yeeees," he said as he rubbed his hands together. "You can have your precious child-only health insurance policy back. And all it will cost you is ... higher premiums!"

From out of nowhere, there was sudden, loud and ominous blast of organ music. The man seemed to erupt in flames, and before the young mother could gather her wits, the mysterious stranger vanished as quickly as he had appeared. All that remained was a cloud of smoke that smelled faintly of brimstone.

To be fair and balanced, insurance companies are not the devil. Or even his minions. That's just an incredibly popular (and probably only partially true) legend.

Another is that the Obama administration made a Faustian bargain with insurance companies. That legend, however, is based on actual events.

Earlier this year, health insurance companies dropped child-only insurance policies because the kids just didn't bring in enough money. Administration officials feared sick children may go uncovered and untreated, so they struck a deal.

If companies agreed to restore child-only policies, in return, the administration would allow companies to jack up their premiums so they can turn a profit. That is, assuming individual state laws permit it.

But not all the companies are playing ball.

"Unfortunately, some insurers have decided to stop writing new business in the child-only insurance market, reneging on a previous commitment made in a March letter to 'make pre-existing condition exclusions a thing of the past,' " Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius says in statement quoted by The New York Times.

Insurers argue they're not greedy devils, just economic realists. They won't have the resources to help anyone if they don't turn a profit. In other words, they can't help the sick unless the majority of the people paying premiums are healthy.

They told administration officials child-only policy are fiscal disasters waiting to happen because, under health care reforms, families can buy insurance for their children at the last minute. While that may make sense from a humanitarian standpoint, insurance executives argued it hampered their ability to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

All this may be moot in 2014.

Unless Republicans win enough seats in Congress next month to make good on their plans to scuttle health care reform, all Americans will be required to have health insurance by 2014. Insurance companies won't be able to turn either adults or children away because of pre-existing conditions.

The Times reports the Obama administration and insurance companies have been locking horns for months. Administration officials want companies to cover children with cancer, autism, heart defects and other conditions.

Yet, most parents are lucky if they can find insurance that covers braces.

In a letter quoted by The Times, Sebelius calls the continued reluctance of some insurance companies to offer child-only policies "extremely disappointing."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.