Forbes.com, a venue not unfriendly to business, features the new CEO of Wellpoint, the giant Indianapolis-based health insurance company that insures one of nine Americans, and makes billions for its executives and stock investors.
(Warren Buffett--indubitably noting Wellpoint earnings (including acquisitions) have risen 55% per year since 2000, to $3 billion, while revenues have grown 37% a year--recently quadrupled Berkshire-Hathaway holdings to 4 million shares.)
After the perplexing headline, “This Won’t Hurt a Bit,” the subhead line says it all: “No company benefits more than Wellpoint from the current health care mess.” And adds, “New executive Angela Braly is trying to put a kind face on this controversial business.”
Yes, Wellpoint is the successor company to Anthem (they combined), which nearly succeeded in “buying” Kansas Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2002 with the Kansas’ company own money, and walking away with the company’s millions in surplus, its reserves, its plant, employees and book of business which included nearly one-half of insured Kansans.
Of course, successive numbers are also brutal, including $180 million in stock for dismissed vice-chairman David Colby who was allegedly dating 12 women--simultaneously and at the same time too--including a company employee--which in part explains why Anthem has a woman CEO.
Wellpoint-Anthem has taken over Blue Cross Blue Shield plans of 14 states (but not Kansas!) and has sales of $56 billion, the highest in the “controversial business“. Wellpoint also has gained infamy for canceling coverage for the ill with allegations of pre-existing conditions, and for fighting suits by doctors who claim delayed or refused payment.
Wellpoint’s kind face, as projected by Ms. Braly who has been at the helm just two months, includes opposition to federal reform and opposition (alone among California health insurance companies) to Governor Arne Schwartzenegger’s plan to insure all Californians, mostly with private insurance.
Ms. Braly’s own six-point program to insure the 47 million Americans without insurance can best be summarized as “let us do it.” She knows United HealthGroup CEO William McQuire personally acquired one thousand seven hundred and sixty seven million dollars ($1.767 billion) in negotiable stock options--and she may too..
Yes, America’s health insurance companies are in a “controversial business“, as stated by Forbes, one of our America’s leading business magazines.
Controversial because they consume $250 billion more each year than public administration in sales and administrative costs, profits and dividends--twice the supposed $9 billion per month cost in Iraq.
Controversial because insurance companies oppose health care reform on the federal and state level with scores of lobbyists and millions of dollars, including campaign contributions to political allies who respond by not only defeating reform legislation, but pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into insurance company coffers by the means of the Medicare drug law and Medicare Advantage, a program that for privatizing Medicare, the Republican way.
Controversial because the current private health insurance system leaves out 47 million Americans, who easily could be insured for less than the excess costs and profits of private health insurers.
Controversial because not having insurance kills people. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimates 18,000 lives (another Iraqi-like number) are lost each year because one of seven Americans do not financial access to health care.
Controversial because America’s employers (see William Clay Ford., former Ford CEO) cannot control of the health care costs of their employees. And are becoming less internationally competitive.
Controversial because unpaid health care bills are a factor in 50% of all bankruptcies.
Controversial because insurance company HMOs and PPOs dictate what doctors you see and what hospitals you use.
Controversial because Americans are spending enough money to have the best health care in the world for everyone, not just the momentarily fortunate.
But reform is not going to happen as long as the Bill McQuires of United Health Groups and the Angela Bralys of Wellpoints of the world are running their (and your) for-profit health care system.
The first step in correcting what Forbes recognizes as “the current health care mess” is to replace private insurers with public administration of patient-choice private services.
Dr Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org