What do you call health care reform where nearly all the health insurers are losing money? President Obama might call it “a good start.” The rest of us call it Obamacare.
News articles emerge almost daily revealing how much money health insurers are losing providing coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. Here’s just a few of stories:
- The Wall Street Journal says Humana expects to lose $176 million in 2016 on Obamacare.
- Aetna, the third largest insurer, said it lost about $140 million on the individual market in 2015.
- Forbes contributor Bruce Japsen notes that the three Blue Cross plans with the biggest Obamacare losses totaled about $1.3 billion in the first nine months of 2015.
- The Washington Post reports that four Massachusetts health plans lost money on Obamacare. Harvard Pilgrim took the biggest hit at $79 million, followed by Blue Cross Blue Shield with $30 million. And remember, the Bay State is a big Obamacare supporter, where the Obamacare prequel, Romneycare, was passed in 2006.
- Oscar, a start-up health insurer that was supposed to bring new thinking to the individual health insurance market lost $105 million on Obamacare exchanges in 2015—and that was in just two states, New York and New Jersey.
- And UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurer, reported last January that it lost $720 million in 2015 selling individual health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. And about $1 billion when 2014 and 2015 were combined.
Oh, did I mention that Obama traveled on Thursday to extol all the benefits of Obamacare? There may be some, but making a profit in health insurance isn’t one of them.
And who’s surprised? Democrats have whined for decades that health insurers and health care providers shouldn’t be profiting from health care.
Hey, mission accomplished!
We occasionally see a news story where some health insurance CEO concedes the losses but boasts that the company isn’t discouraged and will continue providing coverage through the Obamacare exchanges.
The honest insurance CEOs are politely hinting that they may have to rethink their Obamacare participation. But they have to be careful because they know how vindictive the Obama administration can be, especially when it’s being told the president’s “signature legislation”—conceived and birthed by only Democrats—is a financial deadweight. Some of the health insurers may still show a profit at year’s end, but only because of their other lines of business.
But in the age of the activist investor, just how long will a corporate board of a multi-billion-dollar health insurer allow the company to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year to please a presidential administration that no longer exists?
For responsible corporate boards that are protecting shareholders, the issue isn’t just being profitable, but being as profitable as possible. Losing three-quarters of a billion dollars in one year supplying Obamacare exchanges, as UHC did, is tantamount to gross corporate negligence, which is why the company released a statement hinting that it might leave the exchange.
That was a polite and tactful way of saying that unless the exchange market improves—and there is zero reason to think it will—UHC will be heading for the hills. It was also a way to give the company a little time so that the Obama administration can get out of Washington.
President Obama has had almost nothing but bad health care news since his Obamacare passed—from the disastrous Healthcare.gov rollout, to dramatically higher premiums, to millions of cancelled policies, to way underperforming on the promised number of newly insured Americans, to frequent reports of rampant fraud and abuse, to the most recent study that found only about 15 percent of the public has benefited from his boondoggle.
The last thing Obama wants is health insurers heading for the exits so that people have few or no choices in the exchanges, which would imply what everyone already knows: Obamacare has been a disaster for the vast majority of Americans.
That’s why we are unlikely to see the pullout notices until it’s too late for the Obama mob to punish the insurers for leaving. But it also means the next president will have to pick up the pieces on this health insurance wreck.