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Insurers’ Profits Swell, Nation Can’t Afford to Get Sick, Can’t Afford to Get Well

Posted May 16 2011 1:44am

banksy_umbrella_industrial_canal Reed Abelson wrote an interesting piece in The New York Times recently– and it is worth considering. Entitled, “Health Insurers Making Record Profits as Many Postpone Care,” the first paragraph speaks volumes:

The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, enriched in recent months by a lingering recessionary mind-set among Americans who are postponing or forgoing medical care.

But still there is the push to further increase premiums– with “someday there might be a rainy day” a common refrain/justification among insurers.

I’ll leave alone for now the premium increases amidst what Abelson describes as “flush” reserve coffers and shareholders “rewarded with new dividends.” Res Ipsa Loquitur. But you may want to take a quick look at Reed Abelson’s article .

Having said that, I am taken again by the equation which is said to have filled those coffers: people too broke to get themselves fixed– despite having health insurance. It’s a calculus largely unto itself. In many articles here at HRW we’ve discussed how health insurance is unlike other commodities in the marketplace– averring that the economics of health care itself and that of health care finance may not be reckoned the same as say automobiles or butter and bread.

In this instance we consider health insurance– an asset, or benefit– garnered by an employee in return for work provided to an employer. Presumably, this benefit is received in lieu of an increased rate of pay– cash– that that employee would otherwise receive. The employee may also contribute to paying for the insurance out of his or her wages– once again lessening available cash. And the benefit is not utilized– for lack of cash, or the perceived inability to take time from work in the midst of a recession. But the premium is still, of course, paid.  I generally eat the butter and bread I buy.

With health insurance we pay for an assurance (mutually contracted with risk spread) that in the event we need medical care it will be available. An assurance that we will have the means at our disposal to get well, or at least for someone to try. Though at present, it seems, the economy itself (and the prevalent high co-pay/ deductible structure) has dictated that we are not available to receive the medical care we bargained for– despite it being, ostensibly, available. More years into a recession than I care to count, as a nation we can’t afford to get sick, and can’t afford to get well. For insurers, it’s a perfect storm of the optimal. Having said that, putting aside for the moment the prospect of the catastrophic, the employer/employee/health “benefit” seems somewhat illusory. And yet, unlike butter uneaten we will continue to buy it. That is the nature of insurance– you buy it and hope you don’t need it. Though “need” as of late seems to have been redefined economically. As such, it is a very sunny day for the umbrella salesmen– the umbrellas have been all paid for, but they only hand them out on rainy days. It seems the height of hubris to now seek more money for those umbrellas because someday it might rain– or just business as usual. Apparently the risk spread over time doesn’t include insurers.

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