Wednesday 3 August 2011
by: Wendell Potter, The Center for Media and Democracy
Three of the biggest health insurers have announced quarterly earnings in the past few days. If Americans were able to eavesdrop on what executives from those firms tell their Wall Street masters every three months, they would have a better understanding of why premiums keep going up while the number of people with medical coverage keeps going down.
It only takes three words, when you get right down to it, to describe the real of those folks: profits over people.
CIGNA and Humana are scheduled to report earnings this week. The three companies that have already spoken -- UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna -- earned a combined $2.51 billion from April through the end of June, more than analysts expected. On a per share basis, their earnings were up more than 17 percent on average compared with the second quarter of 2010.
One of the secrets to achieving these results is what the insurers euphemistically call "medical management." That often translates into denied claims and denied coverage for doctor-ordered care. The fewer claims you pay and the more procedures you refuse to pay for, the more money is left over for investors to put in their pockets.
Another important way they've been able to sustain such a string of impressive earnings results is to shift more and more of the cost of care to their policyholders. An increasing percentage of these companies' policyholders are enrolled in plans that require greater cost sharing. Those policyholders pay more for care out of their own pockets than ever before while their insurers are paying much less.