Editorial: Health insurers getting away with greed

Shortly after President Donald Trump was sworn in, he made good on a campaign promise and signed an order giving the Department of Health and Human Services and “other executive departments and agencies,” authority to roll back back parts of the Affordable Care Act.

President Trump has said that pharmaceutical companies are “getting away with murder.” Perhaps when he takes a closer look at the insurance industry, Trump will see how the companies are more like the drug companies than not, and the whole system needs revamping.

Before the dismantling is done, let’s review, for the record, as established by reputable organizations and journalists, this fundamental truth: Obamacare is not responsible for the ongoing rising costs for insurance, despite what many insurance companies claim. (Except in the sense it allows companies to profit on the basic health care package Americans must buy.) Insurance companies have reaped record-breaking profits year after year, and continue to do so, according to healthinsurance.org. And the fact that the biggest insurance companies, with their hugely influential, moneyed lobbyists, are deeply involved in the Medicare and Medicaid programs means decades of profits ahead.

The insurance companies that bowed out of Obamacare were not losing money; they just might not have been making as much money as they like.

For example, UnitedHealth, the largest insurer leaving the marketplace, announced record-breaking profits in 2015, with an even better 2016, ConsumerAffairs.com reported. The company had revenues in July 2016 of $46.5 billion, an increase of $10 billion over the year before. UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen J. Hemsley made over $20 million in 2015, which was down from his 2014 haul of $66 million.

Additionally, and reprehensibly, health insurers used the process intended to curb rate increases to justify them, as Robert Pear reported in the New York Times. That’s the height of arrogance, but you have to get creative to rake in the big bucks.

A Salon.com analysis of regulatory filings found that the top five health insurers — UnitedHealth, Anthem, Aetna, Humana and Cigna — have doled out nearly $30 billion in stock buybacks and dividends from 2013 to 2015. Meanwhile, Salon reported, the increase in customers that these health insurers received under ACA helped raise the stock prices of the top five insurers — some 80 percent for Anthem and 165 percent for Aetna since the high court ruled on June 28, 2012 that Obamacare was constitutional.

Capitalism is great, but it’s wrong to allow profits to drive our health care system. A few areas of American life ought to be held sacrosanct above the almighty profit. Pricing people out of health care, and blaming it on the people who signed up for ACA, (how dare sick people need care!), while insurance companies and investors reap in billions, would seem one of those areas where citizens need protection. It’s difficult to get Congress interested in this matter since all members enjoy taxpayer-subsidized health coverage, outside of the ACA, as news outlets reported at the time.

As things stand, two things are for sure: 1. Regardless of how the ACA is picked apart, it won’t result in more affordable coverage for anyone. If the mandate to buy insurance is tossed out, people won’t have to pay a premium any more, but of course they will be in the same position that in part prompted the need for Obamacare: They won’t have any insurance, and if they become sick or injured, the rest of us will pay for it, through our insurance costs. 2. The insurance companies and their investors will continue to do very well.

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