The Freak Show: And The Winner Is… The Insurance Companies!

A report has just come out analyzing insurance company financial statements over the last 10 years. It turns out that profits for the 10 largest U.S. insurance companies have gone up 250 percent between 2000 and 2009. This is at the same time millions of Americans have lost coverage, and millions more have been forced to go into plans with high deductibles and lesser coverage.
The report found that the five biggest insurance companies, WellPoint, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Humana, saw their profits increase 56 percent in 2009 alone, a year in which 2.7 million people lost their coverage. The report also found that the companies combined earned a total of $12.2 billion last year. (Also noted was the fact that the executive compensation the CEOs of the top five companies averaged $24 million in 2008.)
Earlier this month, insurer WellPoint’s Anthem unit moved to increase insurance rates by up to 39 percent on individual policies in California. The report showed that such premium hikes are not uncommon, even while these insurers show billions in ever growing profits, and pay their executives multimillion-dollar salaries. It is happening all over the country, including here in New Jersey, and the report goes on to say that experts predict these increases will continue.
Interestingly, the report shows that the amount spent on prescription drugs over the past decade continues to become a smaller piece of the pie, while administrative costs, such as salaries, administrative expenses and profits, have become the large part. You might think increased premiums are because of increased costs on the part of the insurance companies, but the data shows the industry provided coverage to 2.2 million fewer people during the same period.
I have heard people say, ‘Sure, we pay a lot, but we get the best health care in the world.’ In fact, many Republicans who have vowed to overturn the health reform passed last year state that we have the best system. Well, in a way they are right… they do, because they made sure the coverage congressmen get is all encompassing and almost completely free of charge to them. But for the average American citizen, it’s anything but.
The U.S. pays twice as much, yet is well below other wealthy nations in such measures as infant mortality and life expectancy. Life expectancy in the U.S. is 42nd in the world, below most developed nations and some developing nations. The World Health Organization has ranked the U.S. health care system: highest in cost, first in responsiveness, 37th in overall performance, and 72nd by overall level of health (among 191 countries included in the study). The Commonwealth Fund ranked the U.S. last in the quality of health care among similar countries.
We are the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage. A 2009 Harvard University study estimated that 44,800 excess deaths occur annually due to lack of health insurance.
The health care reform passed last year starts to address the issue, but is so diluted that it fails to solve the major problems. Without Government run universal health care, or a “public option,” it still leaves the cost in the hands of the insurance companies. The theory in the reform bill is that by requiring everyone to have it, the large customer base will lead to competition and greater enrollment, thereby causing the cost to come down. But by what we’re seeing, that’s not the case. No matter what situation exists, the insurance companies have raised, raised and raised rates. Without regulation, what makes anyone think it will be any different?
On top of that, even this weak attempt at health care reform is the subject of recall attempts by the Republicans. And their proposal to turn Medicare over to private companies by giving senior citizens vouchers is a joke. There’s nothing to stop them from raising rates beyond what people can pay.
Why aren’t our leaders doing something about this travesty? Because the insurance companies are spending big bucks to keep things as they are. The top 20 largest health related companies, between 2007 and 2009, spent approximately $1,000,800,000 on lobbying and political contributions. That’s right, over one billion dollars.
You could insure a lot of people for that amount of money. But before you think that it’s a crazy amount, remember these are businessmen. They only spend that much money because they think they will make that back, and more, in the future. They are protecting their profits.
Our fearless leaders in Washington are in the pockets of the health insurance companies, and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it. I have given up on waiting for the “change” to come from the White House; the reform we got was better than nothing, but a very weak attempt to overcome the greedy corporations and their executives and bring our country up to par with the rest of the world.
Yet the Republicans want to get rid of even that small step toward reform. They claim if we let the free market work, it will solve our problems. We have seen the market work. In the case of health care, it doesn’t. It needs regulation. They are uncaring, selfish, egomaniacs for thinking otherwise. It they had any speck of self-respect in their bodies, they would be ashamed of what they are doing to the people of this country. The Democrats are not innocent in all of this, but what the Republicans want to do is the utmost in hypocrisy. Given that they have given themselves the best health care our country has to offer, they are essentially are saying to hell with the rest of us.
Unfortunately reports like the one just issued don’t make headlines. So the insurance companies will continue to price people out of coverage, and continue to fight any effort to bring better health care to our country.