Aetna Proves That Single Payer Is The Only Way To Go
It's been over two years since the bulk of Obamacare went into effect, and American health insurance companies are making a great case for why it's time to adopt a single payer system and take the profit motive out of how health care is paid for once and for all.
On Monday, Aetna, America's third largest insurance company, announced that it will withdraw from Obamacare exchanges in 11 states and it will only offer insurance through the state-level Obamacare marketplaces in four states in 2017.
Obamacare has, overall, been a huge success, especially among the less visible and more marginalized populations in America.
Economist David Cutler told the New York Times back in April that "The law has clearly reduced broad measures of inequality. These are people who blend into the background of the economy. They are cleaning your hotel room, making your sandwich. The law has helped this population enormously."
In February, the administration estimated that roughly 20 million more people have insurance now that Obamacare has gone into effect, and marginalized groups in general benefited the most.
According to that New York Times analysis from April: "Part-time workers gained insurance at a higher rate than full-time workers, and people with high school degrees gained it at double the rate of college graduates. Adults living in households headed by relatives, such as siblings or cousins, [which is] often a marker of economic distress, gained insurance at double the rate of traditional households."
And having health insurance and access to affordable healthcare leads to big benefits for communities: the New York Times reported that one federally funded health clinic in South Los Angeles has enrolled 18,000 new patients under the law, nearly all of them from minority backgrounds, and the clinic reported a 44 percent increase in cervical cancer screenings and a 25 percent increase in tobacco cessation therapy, which means more lives saved and healthier community outcomes.
But, Aetna's announcement on Monday is proof that the law is still fundamentally flawed.
And Aetna is by no means alone.
In April, UnitedHealth Group, the largest health insurance company in America, announced in April that it will be withdrawing from the ACA insurance exchanges in most of the 34 states where it currently operates, saying that it's expecting to lose $650 million dollars in 2016.
The Kaiser Family Foundation points out that if United dropped out of all 34 states, 1.1 million people would have just one option for an insurer, creating a for-profit monopoly for those people.
And then there's Humana, which announced in July that the company will offer exchange plans in "no more" than 11 states next year in 2017.
Humana's announcement coincidentally came on the exact same day that the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block Humana's proposed merger with Aetna.
Some of the shortcomings with Obamacare can be traced to the fact that so many red states have refused federal funds to expand Medicaid.
But the truth is, we're never going to be able to affordably cover every American until we address the major problem with our health care system: The profit motive.
Journalist and Author T.R. Reid pointed out in his 2008 documentary Sick around the World that the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that allows for-profit corporations to offer basic, primary care health insurance.
The key difference between us and the rest of the developed world is that health care is considered a legal and political right in every other industrialized country, and here it's only considered a privilege.
And when people pay for health insurance provided by a for-profit company, they aren't just paying for insurance, they're paying for all of the administrative costs of the company, including executive salaries and CEO bonuses.
According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Aetna's Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini took home $27.9 million in compensation last year, about $24.8 million of which was value gained on stock options.
In 2014, UnitedHealthcare CEO Stephen Hemsley took home over $66 million dollars, including $45.5 million in exercised stock options.
Those salaries and stock options make up just a portion of the 12 percent to 14 percent administrative overheads that are typical for for-profit health insurance companies.
So while the executives get bonuses, consumers like you and I get stiffed with paying for it in the form of inflated insurance rates!.
In contrast, in 2015 the administrative overhead amounts for Medicare were only about 2 percent of the program's operating costs and nobody working for Medicare became a multimillionaire.
If we want universal coverage at the federal level, we need to take the profit-motive out of healthcare with a federal single-payer program like the Medicare-For-All programs proposed by Congressman John Conyers and Senator Bernie Sanders.
But this isn't something that we have to wait for Congress to take action on - citizens at the state level can take the lead.
Right now in Colorado, there is a very popular proposed amendment that would replace the state's problematic Obamacare insurance exchange with a universal healthcare program called "ColoradoCare."
Very simply, the program would pair private providers with state funds from combined sources to extend healthcare coverage to every man, woman, and child in Colorado.
Citizens in Colorado are leading the way, but citizens in other states can, and should, organize and push for efficient statewide universal healthcare systems to replace the inefficient and costly for-profit insurers that cruelly put profit over people.