Weather Forecast


From the Left Hand Corner: United dilemmas

What a shameful way we finance health care in America!

United Health Group (UHG) lost financial ground a little bit in the first quarter of 2014. Isn’t that a shame? The company alleges that this was due to the continuing application of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This is the UHG that has mushroomed to enormous size and profit, generated by government dollars. Wasn’t UHG one of the favored 20 or so companies approved to jump into the newly created and ultimately lucrative senior drug coverage industry in 2004? Hasn’t it grown by leaps and bounds ever since?

Now UHG is lamenting that its profit picture is held down because of provisions in the ACA that came into effect early this year. How bad was it? Well, UHG’s cry of downturn is based on a first quarter net income reported at only $1.1 billion, or $1.10 per share, as opposed to last year, when it made $1.2 billion, or $1.16 per share.

That is mere pennies per share in anybody’s book. Now isn’t that a terrible situation to be in? CEO Stephen Hemsley, not mentioning his own unconscionable salary and benefits, asserts in the April 18, 2014, Star Tribune that “... this will continue as the year progresses and new regulatory and tax baselines are established and settle in.”

What kind of picture is painted by the nay-saying CEO, versus the facts? Some outside analysts might look down upon them, but UHG gets to keep and enjoy the billions of dollars in government revenue that have made UHG the largest health insurance company in the country — with government support.

Isn’t this something to complain about?

United Health Group is also concerned about reform in the area of attempted cuts in funding for Medicare Advantage (MA). Didn’t MA come about with the illusion and promise of allowing private insurers to run their own versions of Medicare for the elderly and disabled?

In reality, the private plans have proved to be more costly to the consumer. Every time cuts or economizing are proposed, insurance industry lobbyists swarm to Washington, D.C. Some few cost-cutting provisions have been enacted, and UHG complains about that.

UHG executives complain now that its profits have been reduced by 30 cents a share because of MA cuts, commercial underwriting charges and other unspecified law provisions. That doesn’t show much concern about access or affordability for U.S. citizens, does it?

Are we collectively going to capitulate to this nonsense and continuously provide vast sums in payment for insurance company profits that ought to be directly paid to those actually providing health care?

UHG has held back from joining health care insurance exchanges across the nation. Again quoted in the Star Tribune, it is refraining from doing so “... fearing that the online marketplaces would draw the oldest and sickest consumers ...” — the very ones who need it most.

Shouldn’t that need to help these people be our foremost objective as a society? That seems to be what UHG seeks to avoid, in order to keep its profit margin higher.

When, if ever, are we going to insist that our tax dollars that become government dollars for health care actually go to support providers and facilities, where the need is known?

Can’t we see our way clear to modify the unequal options available to us now through private insurers?