If anyone in healthcare could say they actually benefited from COVID-19, it was health insurance companies.
Don’t get us wrong – there were bills for health plans to pay. According to a March 2nd article in The Triangle Business Journal, costs did jump last year for the state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC).
But so did membership.
BCBSNC already dominates more than half the state insurance market – and it landed another 11 percent growth in members between 2020 and 2021.
Not only that, from 2020 to 2021 (amidst a global pandemic) BCBSNC’s revenue grew from $9.9 billion to $10.7 billion. Its 2021 profit of $569.3 million was even higher than the previous two years.
So while insurance companies are quick to bemoan those higher COVID-19 costs, our sympathy is fading.
Meanwhile, North Carolina has been declared No. 3 in the United States for rural hospital closures. This dynamic has forced many rural hospitals in the state to partner with other healthcare providers—or risk closing their doors altogether.
At the end of the day, insurance costs in North Carolina keep rising, but coverage is reducing as insurers restrict care, limit reimbursements, and otherwise push costs onto patients, who struggle to access and pay for the care they need. Hospitals, meanwhile, are left with limited options—and an undue share of the blame.
Health insurers like BCBSNC continue to grow memberships, raise premiums, and collect profits. And, hate to say it, but we saw this one coming.
The following was a prediction about health insurers from a November 2021 article in Fierce Healthcare that’s coming true:
“[They] will justify their increases with a lack of experience in COVID long-term impacts regardless of record profits they made during the pandemic…. Costs will also rise as hospitals are left with no other option, Thilborger said, though not all will be able to negotiate higher rates. ‘Those with less leverage will have more future financial risk.’”
If health insurance companies continue to starve hospitals, hospitals are left with two choices: closure or consolidation. At the end of the day, it’s what’s best for the person receiving care. If you’re the patient needing care in rural areas like North Carolina, which one would you choose?