Friday, April 22, 2011

Let the Gaming Begin: Record Profits Despite "Reform"

If you own stock in any of the for-profit health insurance companies, you have reason to rejoice. Shares in UnitedHealth Group Inc's  quarterly profit "crushed estimates, fueled by growth across its health plans and continued benefits from Americans' moderate use of healthcare services, and its shares soared as much as 10.5 percent to a three-year high" according to a Reuters report published Thursday. 

The prognostications of the cynics have come to pass. Despite the much- ballyhooed health care reform law, the for-profit health care system is raking in the big bucks.  They claim that we're just not seeking medical attention like we used to. According to them, we are voluntarily choosing to suffer because we are getting with the austerity program. We are becoming careful and responsible health care "consumers." Fools that we are, we  continue to pay these parasites their skyrocketing premiums, even as we go to the doctor less.  We can't afford the deductibles, the co-pays and all the other out of pocket expenses, analysts concede.  But too bad for us, and hooray for them is the talking point they're not even trying to hide.

 "It was a great quarter," according to one Wall Street analyst, who added that the profits -- amounting to more than $1 billion in income for the United Health leeches -- "pretty much confirms, at this point at any rate, the best hopes that you could have had."

Shares of rival private insurers rose after the report, with WellPoint Inc  up 3.6 percent, Aetna  rising 4.6 percent and Coventry Health Care  climbing 5.3 percent, the Reuters article said. 

The report on profits is the first since provisions in the health care reform law, requiring that private insurers invest at least 80 percent of their profits back into patient care, went into effect at the beginning of the year. It proves that the new law, while ensuring that young people can stay on their parents' plans longer, that you can't be dropped if you get sick, and  that you can't be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, really benefits large insurers at our expense.  They win, and we lose, albeit just a miniscule amount less than we did before. We continue to pay obscenely high premiums and still can't afford to go to the doctor. "Obamacare" as its Republican critics derisively call it, really is a scam of epic proportions. Progressives and conservatives are in agreement that we should not be forced to buy this "product" that purports to care for our health. The so-called good bits don't go into effect until 2014 anyway. 

And just as we suspected, the private insurers have figured out a way to game the system. They post record profits after they are supposedly reined in.  The irony is delicious.

Meanwhile, more of us are uninsured than ever.  And judging from the massive influx of cash to the venal health care cartel, the coverage we do have is pure  junk.  They still rake in much more than they shell out. 

" The report card is an 'A'," gloats David Heupel, a large-cap growth fund portfolio manager with Thrivent Investment Management, whose fund holds Aetna shares. "It's hard to really find anything here that you can poke at." (Presumably, Heupel doesn't have a worry in the world with his gold-plated health insurance plan and his secure job.)

UnitedHealth blames crappy winter weather for its premium payers not going to the doctor as much as might be expected, though it does acknowledge lower than normal claims even in areas not impacted by severe winter storms. They suspect people will start going to the doctor again once the weather warms up. Huh?  Last I heard, people get sick more in the winter, during cold season.  I suggest we look into claims denials along with the unconscionable rate hikes as  big, huge, glaring factors in their "wow, like we totally didn't expect this" windfall profits.  I also suggest we continue to clamor for Single Payer, Medicare for All and send the private insurers straight to the penultimate circle of Dante's Hell where they belong.


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

So true, Karen! Without single payer, healthcare reform is meaningless. I am so sick of insurance companies as a consumer (went for plain Medicare rather than Medicare Advantage because I didn't want to further enrich a bloated health insurer) and as a former health care provider. It's massive fraud and an outrage. I so appreciate your blog!

Anne Lavoie said...

I am so thoroughly outraged and disgusted by the whole state of our country that I am now absolutely beyond words.

Thanks Karen for your continued sizzling and searing commentary and insight.

Karen Garcia said...

The Progressive Caucus has a People's Budget proposal that includes single payer health care. It would reduce the deficit even more than what Obama's "centrist" approach is claiming. I notice that for the first time, the president is encountering hecklers and protesters in his travels. If we all continue making a noise, maybe he'll pay attention... or at the very least he will not be so assured of his re-election. Like both of you, I get so riled up I think I might become apoplectic... then I think of the co-pays and force myself to calm down.

Metro Journalist said...

Thrivent Investment Management? The name must have been created with the idea of investing in health insurers. Aetna, et. al. thrive. Thrivent thrives. The rest of us are wilting. But it's all for the holy cause of profits, preferably obscene ones.

Anonymous said...


I run into your pointed comment under Krugman's column at the NYT.

As political refugee from Prague, Czech Rep., some 30 years ago, with interest in political and societal systems alls the way to health care system not only due to my ex being an anesthesiologist here and being primary care provider for my 5 kids, I am almost ready to start planning my 2nd emigration. Australia looks good, not only due to ample of great paying jobs in my original profession, structural engineering, but also as a prospect of being profitably linked with the PRC.

Running for the cover here, I - like many fellow Americans - look at health care sector, therefore taking MHA (Masters in Health Admin) classes.

But I am not sure if - with the overall economy and prospect continuing to get worse faster then I would have expected, with cultural and societal obstacles making any real chance for the real and desirable change of direction rather illusionary, I don't see much fun, stability etc. in health care as well. They might be just last ones feeling a real pinch, but they are as the rest of the country at the same sinking Titanic.

When the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China gives their central bank a node to "diversify" its now $2.5 trillion dollar reserves, American standard of living is estimated to drop by 25 to 30% as the post-WW2 monopoly on printing reserve currency and the huge free ride which it represents will come to end.

It seems to me that - like with the U.K. after WW2 - US is also deeply in debt, loosing opportunities to exploit cheap natural resources, soon to loose that reserve currency advantage, while the individualistic Anglo-Saxon capitalism worships quick and max profits even when benefiting few. Anglo-Saxon model, clearly hugely successful over the past 200+ years is running out of steam and its competitive edge, as a different social contract, either Continental or Far East Asian (collectivist) have been gaining.

30 years ago, staring in Cleveland, OH suburb I was shocked as citizens there voted down in referendum recycling of aluminium cans as Alcoa told them that it would make their cola or beer more expensive. Now we have Glenn Beck and FOX university of common wisdom. Not much change.

The ruling class continues to have it here great, thank you. 70 years after Steinbeck's "Socialism can't take root in the US, because even the poor here consider themselves only temporarily embarrassed millionaires" not much changed. There is not, like with any culture, much of hope to understand and compensate for our blind spots. The downhill slide will continue, propaganda and bromides from reality shows, FOXes, religious fanatics will only get louder.

Our EU citizenship looks increasingly attractive and I will start looking at Australia as well.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Of course the insurance companies are making record profits! They have 30 million new customers paying the going rate! No deals, no discounts!

In Australia, we are all covered by Australian socialised medicine (also called) Medicare. However, people can buy supplementary insurance that kicks in on hospital stays and optional care like chiropractic. These supplementary insurance companies are NON-PROFITS! My husband has us on an average plan and we pay a whopping $150 a month for our entire family. I had surgery last February with a three day hospital stay. My co-pay (because we are not poor enough to be subsidised) to the hospital was $200 and my co-pay to the doctor was $220. My care has been excellent - actually better than what I had in the U.S. The biggest thing people need to get their minds around in the U.S. is that medical care in Australia and other countries where I have lived - New Zealand and Germany - is cheaper than what Americans pay - yet everyone is covered.

Anyone I know who has lived abroad in a first world country and experienced it, loves socialised medicine. Sure we have to wait for optional surgeries, but not long, certainly not as long as the scare tactics make it out to be. The surgery I had in February would be considered optional and I only had to wait three months. And sure, I had to share a hospital room, big deal.

The other remark I have is that pretty much everyone over fifty can't wait until their (U.S.) Medicare kicks in including those people against a public option or a single payer system. How is it that they would deny their neighbour (or grandchild) what they hope to enjoy? In the three aforementioned countries, people have the attitude, “We are all in this together” and something equivalent to “By the grace of God go I.” What has happened to Americans that we don’t have the compassion or “Christian Charity” to be willing to subsidize someone who is unfortunate enough to get a terrible disease so that that person can get the medical care he or she needs? It’s not like a person goes out and decides to get Cancer so (s)he can milk the health care system!


Anonymous said...

When I am listening to and observing my fellow Americans, especially after the Greenspan-designed housing bubble (thus "wealth" of typical American household) collapsed, they are - like our elected representatives at local, state, and federal levels confused, disoriented while they are angry or depressed.

The old ways and tricks, re-financing, new marketing gimmicks, discussions, and grass roots, nothing seems to work. The center-left got Bama who is indeed at Wall Street pocket while Republicans are left with crazy idea that the rich will stop investing globally, not in our depressed metro areas when they will get more tax breaks and Glenn Becks still profits from American ignorance.

As my son in Berkeley (not UC) and the classic say: "If representative democracy would make a difference, it would have been long forbiden",

So, with our Supreme Court ruling on corporate freedom of speech, keep the course!

Anonymous said...

In his latest essay, Ralph Nader muses about "The Spark." He is referring to those unpredictable sparks that can ignite a dulled and sleeping populace, such as we have seen in the Middle East of late or read about in history books.

We have many warehouses stuffed with justified resentment in the US. And aren't we all "waiting for the spark" that will wake people up to the injustice of a marketplace utterly controlled by the not-so-blind hand of greedy corporations, prime examples of which are found in for-profit health insurance?

I don't know when or how the spark will ignite the tinder of resentment and the thirst for justice, but it's long overdue.

Anonymous said...

The discussion was framed as "health care reform," yet all we ever heard about was "health insurance reform." When single-payer was taken off the table at the very beginning of the process, we all knew the fix was in.

As Prof. Krugman observed a few days back, so long as we continue to talk about markets and consumers and premiums, rather than patients and health care and compassion, we'll always be arguing about the sleight of hand, and never realize that the magician is busy stealing not only our wallets, but our very lives.

"Cat" will do said...

Karen: I just had to send you this. I love your blog, as I've said before.


Karen Garcia said...

@ "cat" -- that is one hilarious post. Links don't work here, but I added your blog to my "Roll" at the right hand side of the page. Thanks.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Janet, who frequently comments on this blog-site, brought my attention to this website with a comment on another post

They are putting together T.V. ads exposing politicians supporting (and being bribed by) the health insurance cartel with the hope of getting enough support to recall the politicians who have turned on their constituencies and sided with the insurance corporations. If you can spare $3 - Seems like a worthwhile effort.

turnipseed said...

Thanks Valerie for seconding my post! I'm trying to do what Karen suggests--make some Progressive Noise!

I'm on the road this week--headed west to see my grandkids, so just caught up on this blog at my motel tonight. Good reading, as usual.

Two people in my immediate family lost their health insurance this month--in both cases the (small) employer just gave up trying to keep up with the premium increases. In one case, only the employee will now be covered--to hell with the wife and kids! In the other case, they are getting a "catastrophic" only plan with a $5,000 deductible. Goodbye preventative healthcare for that family member in his 50's who needs to have blood work every three months to monitor his previously well-controlled heart disease.

By putting it all off until 2014, the "reform" has created more "death panels" than anything the Palin woman could ever hope to tweet about.

Janet Camp (somewhere in Montana--on the way to the Pacific)

James Logan said...

Uh, I'll say that Health Care Reform is NOT meaningless.
No, it does not resolve all problems, not in the least.

BUT, in my case, where I would have to pay $400 a month just for me, and I'm healthy, that was reduced to $35 a month after the bill went into effect. Of course, I had to be laid off and get another job, and I didn't take that $400 a month insurance because I knew the bill would be enacted.

Yet, I still see some people, and understandably so since they or loved ones were dropped, that dislike it enough to claim it does NOTHING! We got SOMETHING that we were lucky to get at all with the rogue conservative Democrats. You people cast factual inaccuracies, that all of it was put off until 2014. Um, NO. Its in effect NOW.

The proper way to address these inconsistencies, is to hammer home the point of the good it did, and 'man, if Teapublicans hadn't been elected, we'd have had the right people in place to take HCR to its full conclusion. If the response is then "Well my vote doesn't count." then your counter is to show them how close each of these thieving Republicans elections were.
If the response is "Well I don't support it..." Point out the good it has done:"Oh, so you think people should be arbitrarily dropped because they are actually sick?"

That's how you combat ignorance...not by stabbing the liberal results we've gotten so far.

Instead, you guys bash the little progress that was made...I understand your mad, but don't be surprised if we lose yet another round of Congressional elections because you ninny's continue to harp on the bad, and discount ANY good that this Administration was able to achieve.

The problem isn't HCR or WallStreet Reform. The system isn't broken, but people have been elected who are breaking it.

When are you people going to learn that? Stop SABOTAGING the liberal cause and get your heads on STRAIGHT. Nothing worthwhile is gained without a fight. But as Patton said, and I paraphrase, "the object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his".

Address the problem where it stands; weak HCR, weak WallStreet reform, gutting of social assistance for the needy, these are SYMPTOMS, not the illness.

We all know the illness is so called, 'conservative' thinking. So make the connection. All the time. Everywhere you go. At Jamba Juice, or McDonalds, especially at McDonalds, make your comments loud and proud.
Say it with me:
"Our problems are the fault of Congressional Republicans, not the President. Don't believe me, look at their record."

You get the deal. That's how you make PROGRESSIVE Noise. Just yelling that its unfair does NOTHING. Make the connection right back to the source:Teapublicans and Conservative it consistently and FOREVER. If things change and we're able to right this ship, our children and their children's children must NEVER be allowed to forget the conservative attack from within on America.


Karen Garcia said...

@James Logan:
This was cutting it pretty close to an ad hominem attack, but since you misspelled ninnies as "ninny's" I will let it stand. It is just one of the many parts of your post betraying profound ignorance, and I want this blog's readers to see for themselves what happens when an individual buys unquestioningly into a political campaign's/anonymous campaign offshoot's talking points. Not for one minute do I believe you have private medical coverage at $35 a month, unless you are on Medicaid and that is some sort of minimal co-pay. James, you sound like you just signed up for OFA. Missives like yours are not going to win you any converts. If you care to comment again, please refrain from name-calling. It will not be tolerated. Thank you.

James Logan said...

I gave you a cogent, if rambling 100+ word comment, and all you could focus on was my insulting some people as being ninnies?

Saddling him with Republicans, after Obama TOLD YOU HE WOULD WORK WITH ANYONE, then saying "Oh, he's a Republican" is being QUITE the ninny, wouldn't you say?

The problem is a glaring disconnect on OUR side:

The will to blame Obama for everything, and not hold Teapublicans in Congress wholly responsible as they should be.

You don't have to believe what I say about the healthcare I just have to look at the documents, then rescind your disbelief. I haven't found an email address to contact you at, but I'm sure there's away I can send you a copy of my paperwork, properly redacted.

Is it perfect, well obviously NOT. But I'm sick of people with this OFA b/s attitude who rightly complain about how everything is not fixed as it should be, but then turn RIGHT AROUND and refuse to vote or vote to 'show him', then slam President Obama for it, as if he's the one that put these clowns in office.

Ninnies misspelling aside, you do know that the Executive and Legislative branches have to work together in order to produce things like legislation, right?

I won't apologize for calling those who consistently blame Obama for the job THEY should be doing on their own(voting or writing to their Congress people), ninnies...because that's what they are. Crybabies who live in a DEMOCRACY where NO ONE GETS EVERYTHING THEY WANT, yet they cry because they didn't get everything they want? You want everything? Then convince your neighbor to vote in the right people. Blaming Obama, getting people to say 'righteously' that 'I'm not voting for Obama just because he's the only viable candidate out there...I'll choose someone else', that's only going to help the crazies.

We need people getting recalls going, getting petitions signed, making sure they drive a neighbor down to the voting booth, not just going, voting, then going home to sleep...or not voting at all.

I will apologize for being p'd off that you wouldn't put up my other post, rebutting some clowns assertions on Obama, but now at least I understand why. Whether you let me post again, is entirely up to you, and understood.

Instead of correcting my 'spelling' error or focusing on words that hurt your 'delicate sensibilities' why not correct peoples misconceptions of how our government works?

Thanks for not removing my post, but we have got to wake up folks...the curtains are still smoldering and worrying about anything other than totally recalling EVERY Republican liar in office is PARAMOUNT to the survival of the nation. You work to do that, and succeed, THEN we can have a full fledged discussion about whether President Obama is a closet Republican, because we will have handed him a fully functioning Congress(devoid of Conservatives, that is)

Until then, that conversation is a dangerous red-herring to be chasing when so much is at stake, and the truth of the situation is right there in front of you to help. So, please, do your part.

Keep your feet wet, your powder dry.

p.s. I won't be seeking to get NYT to change is policy for people who's blogs are freely advertised through comments. I realize, its not the free link that has me angry; its that you keep promulgating the misconception that its all about President Obama. I can see ConstantWeader got my message about that(or someone else in her circle said the same to her)...I'm clarifying here, that I realize the 'free linking' isn't the problem. Is 'free linking' to the wrong ideas that either you post, or don't challenge.

James Logan said...

Oh, and I'd like you to clarify the parts of so called 'profound ignorance' you claim. I'd like to at least rebut them. I don't think you'll come up with much, because re-reading my own post, there is NOTHING of profound ignorance in my post. Unless of course, you're choosing to ignore how the two branches of government Legislative and Executive work 'together'.

Karen Garcia said...

I know about the three branches of government. And I know "it isn't all about President Obama"-- if you read all the past posts on this blog you will find I give equal play to Republicans! President Obama has said we must hold his feet to the fire, so I take him at his word. Criticizing the president does not translate into supporting the Tea Party.

I deleted a couple of your posts because of foul language, by the way-- a few others were borderline and I let them stand, because I am not as censorious as The Times. But please keep it clean and civil. Thanks.

James Logan said...

(Curse-o-tron turned off)
No I don't think you're a TeaPartier, in the least.

But, 'progressivism' is an ideology or a mindset, and therefore, you are holding his head to the fire, not his feet.

But saying he isn't a progressive, isn't a criticism, its a distraction like asking for his long-form birth certificate when we already knew he was born here...and as President Obama also said, WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! If you're going to criticize, do it constructively. Do it completely...if you know that issuing statements(which, President Obama HAS done, incidentally)isn't going to change these Republicans minds, why oh why keep harping that President Obama isn't making MORE statements that Republicans will ignore?

At some point, you've GOT to stop and say, wait, ok he is doing that...but not as much as I'd like...why? Then you expose that light that keeps Republicans scurrying for safety back under the sink, truth, and it all comes together.

But you keep jabbing him and it serves no purpose, other than to give credence to others that feel only Obama is responsible for everything.

I just spent the last 2-3 weeks changing the channel when Donald Trump was on because he was challenging Obama's identity, which we all knew was a b/s 'argument', and I stumble upon you, doing basically the same thing, but not challenging his humanity about it. Challenging his 'credentials'.

Pardon me, but, I would think that focusing on the economy and recovering the nation from the last 20 year conservative onslaught is THE priority and can only be handled if President Obama has the right legislature in place, and can only be secured if state executives and legislatures, all the way down to the city dog catcher, are recalled and replaced with sane human beings.

That is one HELL of a tall order, if you ask me...and with the education level its at now, never mind after another decade of cut-taxes/slash-education...well can I get an 'oy vey'?

It just seems to me that we have limited ammo, and painting a picture of him as a phony is wasting it...its certainly not going to motivate anyone who's apathetic, to get up off their butts and do their duty as citizens or go find a recall petition to sign.

ps your editorial guidelines are more than acceptable. I'm surprised I'm allowed to still post, honestly. Enjoy your weekend...