Step over an imaginary line drawn by some insurance bean counter, and your rate can soar 25%. In what parallel universe is this considered an acceptable way to provide healthcare?
Swope's case also highlights another outrage: Because of a disorder involving her esophagus, she won't be able to obtain insurance from any other company until Obamacare provides that right in 2014. In the meantime, she has no choice but to accept any rate hike Anthem throws her way.
With cars, your insurance rate is based in part on your driving record, but there are also external factors beyond your control. If you live in an area that's more prone to accidents or vehicular damage, you may pay a higher premium to reflect the higher risk.
Healthcare is healthcare. Or at least it should be. Treating a broken arm at one facility shouldn't cost more than elsewhere. Chemotherapy at one hospital shouldn't cost more than using the same chemicals at another.
Of course, if you move from Pacoima to Pakistan, your potential for harm is perhaps greater, and a health insurer would be justified in setting rates at a commensurate level.
But if you move from one community in Southern California to another — whether it's 200 miles or just a few minutes away — you probably haven't exposed yourself to any meaningful environmental change, unless you're now living on a toxic-waste dump.
In any case, Swope's health and her commitment to staying well are no different today than they were before either move.
"It's highway robbery," said her husband, who, at 66, enjoys the peace of mind afforded by government-run Medicare. "What's my wife going to do until the reform law kicks in? Where else can she go?"
The answer is nowhere.
Swope has been insured by Anthem since 2000. In 2002, she was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, a complication of acid reflux. According to WebMD, the disorder increases one's risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, "a serious, potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus."
"When I was diagnosed, my doctor told me not to even think about changing insurers," Swope said. "They won't take me."
The healthcare reform law will fix that. Beginning in 2014, people who don't have coverage from an employer will be able to shop for insurance on so-called exchanges. Insurers will be barred from denying coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition.
But that's still more than a year away. Does Swope have any recourse until then?
She and her husband have filed a grievance with Anthem. They said the insurer has yet to respond.
Rocco, the deputy insurance commissioner, said there isn't much her office can do. Regional rates are permitted under state and federal law, she said, making it difficult for consumers to challenge such rate hikes.
And even though Swope is a hostage to Anthem because of her preexisting condition, regulators have no authority to tell the insurer to operate differently, Rocco said.
The fault, it seems, is Swope's. She had the temerity to cross from one arbitrary insurance zone into another. That will cost her an extra $106 a month.