Betting on Health Care Reform

March 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: The Uninsured 

nyse-floorAt least investors think health care reform will be happening some time soon.  The Wall Street Journal reported that managed care stocks fell after Obama asked Congress to take an up or down vote Wednesday afternoon.  It might be wishful thinking (or dreadful, depending on which way you look at it) for the investors who are moving their investments from managed care plans.  With Congress members still treating health care reform as a game of cat and mouse, whether a vote will happen and whether the vote will be for reform is yet to be determined.

Take for instance Nathan Deal, a Republican from Georgia, who is purposely postponing his resignation from the House until a vote on health care happens so that he can get his nay vote in.  Then, there is the promise from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to repeal health care reform before it has even been passed.  And despite Wall St. estimations to the contrary,  with the complications of reconciliation, the prospect of getting a bill that actually creates a mass exodus out of managed care seems at least somewhat iffy.

Interestingly, as the Washington Post revealed on Wednesday, private insurance companies, such as the infamous WellPoint, will be the primary beneficiaries of a failed health care reform attempt.  As Ezra Klien stated:

The argument is simple: Wellpoint’s business model is uncommonly concentrated in the individual and small-group markets. Those are the exact markets that health-care reform will drastically change. Those are the markets where people get rejected for preexisting conditions, where insurers spend 30 cents of every premium dollar on administration and where rate hikes are volatile and constant. Health-care reform wants to change all of that, and if it does, Wellpoint’s business model will be changed, too.

It would seem, then, that health care reform would not be difficult to carry through in considering who stands to win and who stands to lose if reform is not passed.  One of the major barriers is the Republicans’ animosity towards using reconciliation to pass a final health care bill, an idea they consider foreign to the democratic process.  However, as NPR just reported this past week, reconciliation is not “unprecedented,” and in fact, it has been used many times in the course of our country’s history to pass similar bills.  COBRA, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and changes to Medicare have all happened through reconciliation.  Moreover, between 1981 and 2008, 16 out of 21 reconciliation bills were Republican initiatives.

Without a final vote on health care soon, many worry that the momentum will be lost.  Many members of Congress, steadfast in their platform promises, are not helping the process move any quicker.  In the meantime, insurance companies continue to prosper; Americans continue to pay the price.


Why Angela Braly, CEO of the WellPoint Insurance Co., Deserves a Raise

February 9, 2010 by · 8 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 
Photo by Ad Meskens

Photo by Ad Meskens

Angela Braly, CEO of  health insurance giant WellPoint, deserves a raise. As regular readers of this column know, Ms. Braly did not make as much as Aetna’s Ronald A. Williams in 2008.

In a post written back in May of 2009 I noted of Insurance Company CEO Total Compensation:

Aetna’s Ronald Williams received $24,300,112 last year. That’s $467,309.85 per week. That’s a house. Maybe not a house that Mr. Williams would live in, but a house nonetheless. The man makes a house a week. And interestingly enough, if Mr. Williams were to eschew the purchase of a house on any given week and instead look to deposit the money in a bank– in order to remain FDIC insured (up to $250,000)– he would actually need to open more than one account–every week. Lest we lament the fate of the other CEOs on the list, in 2008 Ms. Braly had to get by on $189,311.76 per week….

Less than half of what Mr. Williams brought in, in 2008 Ms. Braly was forced to make ends meet on $9,844,212.

In 2007, her first year on the job: $9,094,271. Which, for those keeping score at home, is $174,889.83 per week. Her predecessor at Wellpoint, Larry Glasscock, received  $23,886,169 in total compensation in 2006. Again, in 2008 Ms. Braly had to get by on $189,311.76 per week. True, it was $14,421.93 more per week than she had made the year prior, but that won’t be nearly sufficient for this year.

So why does Angela Braly deserve a raise? Pay so high that the  FDIC limits on insurance (yes, it’s somewhat ironic) won’t work for her weekly paycheck? Because WellPoint subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross of California has found the audacity to raise individual insurance premiums in that state 39%. That’s right, 39%. This, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, “as WellPoint Incorporated, has seen its profits soar, earning $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009 alone.”

Profits “soar,” raise rates. What more could Wall Street want?

Secretary Sebelius has demanded “justification” for the increase. In a letter sent to the Wellpoint subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross, she writes:

One of the biggest pressures facing families, businesses and governments at every level are skyrocketing health insurance costs.  With so many families already affected by rising costs, I was very disturbed to learn through media accounts that Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise premiums for its California customers by as much as 39 percent. These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make health care unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy.

Your company’s strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand. As you know, your parent company, WellPoint Incorporated, has seen its profits soar, earning $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009 alone.

And there you have it, profits soar, raise rates, the stock soars–as will, presumably, Ms. Braly’s stock options. She won’t have “to get by on $189,311.76 per week” for all that much longer. With that kind of move it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself in Mr. Williams’ neighborhood.

Now that the healthcare reform debate awaits its Summit, from the vantage point of its nadir, one might imagine other Insurance Company CEO’s to embark upon a similar strategy. Good thing we jettisoned all those proposed pesky insurance regulations contained in the House & Senate bills.

Because it never gets old to me, here’s the list of Insurance Company CEO Total Compensation:

Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Ins. Co. & CEO With 2007 Total CEO Compensation

  • Aetna Ronald A. Williams: $23,045,834
  • Cigna H. Edward Hanway: $25,839,777
  • Coventry Dale B. Wolf : $14,869,823
  • Health Net Jay M. Gellert: $3,686,230
  • Humana Michael McCallister: $10,312,557
  • U.Health Grp Stephen J. Hemsley: $13,164,529
  • WellPoint Angela Braly (2007): $9,094,271
    L. Glasscock (2006): $23,886,169

Ins. Co. & CEO With 2008 Total CEO Compensation

See Nonprofit Health Related CEO Compensation Here.


Medical Expense for a Family of Four Rises

May 21, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Yesterday we took a look at Health Insurance CEO pay, and noted that Mr. Ronald Williams of Aetna made $467,309.85 per week in 2008, while Ms. Braly of Wellpoint was left to make ends meet on $189,311.76 per week, and Mr. Hemsley of United Health was forced to manage on  $62,327.73 per week (though one might hope that Mr. Hemsley had the presence of mind to put a little something away the year prior when he had made $253,164.02 per week).

Today we take a brief look at how the other half lives. HealthCare Finance News reports that according to the Milliman Medical Index (MMI) the average medical bill for a typical family of four covered by an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) program rose 7.4 percent from 2008 to 2009. In actual dollars:

The total 2009 medical bill for a typical American family of four is $16,771, compared with the 2008 figure of $15,609. The $1,162 increase is the highest measured by the MMI since the 2006 increase of $1,168, when cost trends were at 9.6 percent.

The MMI found that employers are expected to pay $9,9947, or 5.4 percent more than in 2008, while employees are expected to contribute $4,004 toward their health costs, an increase of 14.7 percent, and pay $2,820 in out-of-pocket expenses, an increase of 5.4 percent.

According to Health and Human Services: “The estimated median income for a four-person family living in the United States is $70,354 for FFY 2009″ (slightly more than Mr. Hemsley’s weekly paycheck). According to the MMI, of that $70,000, nearly $7,000 in employee wage goes to healthcare expense. That’s 10 per cent or $583.33 per month. That’s more than enough to make the payment on a brand new Cadillac.

In addition, one should also note that the employers’ contribution is nearly $10,000 per year, or $833.33 per month. Together, the actual total is $16,771 or $1397.59 per month. Which is to say that the average expense for medical for a family of four is $1400.00 per month. According to the Census Bureau, the average price of a house in the U.S. in March of 2009 was $201,400.00.

According to the current average for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage is 5.24% but rates are “all over the map.” We’ll use 7%. The monthly mortgage payment on $201,400 for a 30 year fixed rate at 7% is $1339.92. The average monthly medical expense amounts to $1397.59.

That’s a house. The average monthly medical expense for a family of four amounts to a house, maybe not one that Mr. Williams, Ms. Braly or Mr. Hemsley would live in, but a house nonetheless. Oh, and there’s still $57.67 left over– enough to catch the earlybird special at the Family Buffet.


Is the Medicare Advantage Program Really Advantageous

January 15, 2009 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Medicare 

CQ Politics reports that President-elect Obama is committed to the elimination of Medicare Advantage plans. Obama told ABC’s “This Week” that Medicare Advantage plans are an example of cost-cutting government initiatives that do not work.

This is especially interesting in light of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordering WellPoint to temporarily suspend enrollment and marketing efforts for its Medicare plans on Monday. The Los Angeles Times reports that the sanctions followed a “sharp” increase in complaints. Reportedly, some customers of WellPoint were unable to receive their prescription drugs while others were overcharged because of computer mistakes.

Along with President-elect Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has signaled his intent to “scale back” the Medicare Advantage Program, according to The Hill. Medicare Advantage plans offer health insurance to more than 10 million of the 45 million Medicare beneficiaries. However, the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee reports that Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 13% more per beneficiary on average than Original Medicare in 2008.

Democrats say that $15 billion of the annual $94 billion in subsidies granted to Medicare Advantage plans are the result of “overpayments.”

Surely, any attempt to eliminate Medicare Advantage plans from the Medicare program will be met with fierce opposition from private insurance companies. In response to the threat of elimination, America’s Health Insurance Companies said that the so-called “overpayments” are used to help purchase prescription drug coverage, vision care, and chiropractic services for which Original Medicare does not pay.

There may be some merit to this argument as Original Medicare is lacking in many crucial coverage areas, including dental services which left untreated can be fatal. Thus, it is quite possible that the elimination of Medicare Advantage plans could result in many seniors facing reduced benefits, limited health care choices and higher out-of-pocket costs, according to America’s Health Insurance Companies.