One of the disturbing practices highlighted in Michael Moore’s “Sicko” involved insurance companies paying bonuses to employees who were able to find ways to cancel the policies of patients who became sick. The practice was simple and brutal – if a policy holder became sick with something like cancer, the insurance company would look for ways to cancel the policy and not cover the person’s medical expenses.

Fortunately, the courts are getting involved.

A woman who had her medical coverage canceled as she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer has been awarded more than $9 million in a case against one of California’s largest health insurers.

Patsy Bates, 52, a hairdresser from Lakewood, had been left with more than $129,000 in unpaid medical bills when Health Net Inc. canceled her policy in 2004.

On Friday, arbitration judge Sam Cianchetti ordered Health Net to repay that amount while providing $8.4 million in punitive damages and $750,000 for emotional distress.

“It’s hard to imagine a situation more trying than the one Bates has had to endure,” Cianchetti wrote in the decision. “The rug was pulled out from underneath, and that occurred at a time when she is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the leading causes of death for women.”

It’s hard to imagine a more disgusting policy. The insurance company has admitted to the practice of cancelling policies, but claims it has ceased the practice. Who knows how many more Americans have suffered the same fate.

The award came a day after the Los Angeles city attorney sued Health Net, claiming it illegally canceled the coverage of about 1,600 patients. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo also said the company illegally ran an incentive program in which it paid bonuses to an administrator for meeting targets of policy cancelations.

Health Net acknowledged that such a program existed in 2002 and 2003 but was subsequently scrapped.

“It’s hard to imagine a policy more reprehensible than tying bonuses to encourage the recision of health insurance that helps keep the public well and alive,” Cianchetti wrote in the Bates decision.

Those defending our current health care system must address these terrible practices. Is this the kind of health care they want in ths country?

This is one of the many reasons Americans are clamoring for health care reform.