An unfortunate reality in this country is that many Americans struggle to access and pay for healthcare. The reasons are varied, and different stakeholders cast blame differently: Hospital prices. Decreased Medicaid reimbursement. Outrageous pharmaceutical companies. Greedy health insurers.
If you’ve read Un-covered for a while, you probably know where we stand when it comes to health insurers. But we can also admit that, in truth, every group contributes to healthcare’s complexity in its own way. No single party is fully to blame.
But then comes earnings season—the time when insurers, like all other publicly traded companies, release their most recent quarter’s earnings. And once again, we’re reminded why we spend so much time and energy uncovering the reality of how the health insurance industry continues to erode our healthcare system.
This earnings season, UnitedHealthcare (United) made headlines yet again. According to a May 9th report in Fierce Healthcare, United was this quarter’s most profitable insurer. What else is new?
This quarter, United brought in $80 billion dollars in revenue. Eighty billion—that’s ten zeros!
To put it into context:
So yeah, it’s a lot.
After deducting expenses, United earned $5 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2022. It more than doubly-outperformed the next most profitable insurer — CVS Aetna — which also runs a hefty retail business, to boot.
In comparison, HCA Healthcare — the nation’s biggest, for-profit hospital operator with nearly 200 hospitals across the country — earned $581 million in its first quarter of 2020. That means that United earned eight times more than the most profitable hospital business in the country. When it comes to healthcare companies pulling in as much cash as United, only pharmaceutical companies come close to the competition. While we have a bone to pick with Big Pharma, need we remind you that United controls the healthcare access of nearly 50 million Americans.
United’s upward trajectory has its executives confident that the insurer “will continue to meet its double-digit growth targets even as it continues to expand.” And unlike hospitals, the insurer’s interest is not patients — but shareholders. When are we going to acknowledge that there’s an inverse relationship between United’s success and millions of Americans’ health and wellbeing?