The next time you hear one of our elected officials in Washington rail against President Obama’s proposed public option on health insurance by saying it will “destroy the marketplace” (Richard Shelby) or that there’s “plenty of competition in the private insurance market” (Joe Lieberman) remember this report from Heath Care for America Now (HCAN).
The only thing in danger of being destroyed is the monopoly the large insurance companies presently hold, and which they are willing to make any amount of campaign contributions (aka bribes) to continue.
Consider the following:
“In the past 13 years, more than 400 corporate mergers have involved health insurers, and a small number of companies now dominate local markets but haven’t delivered on promises of increased efficiency. According to the American Medical Association, 94 percent of insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated.”
“Highly concentrated,” according to the U.S. Justice Department means that one company holds more than a 42 % share of the market, a level reached in 31 states.
“In Hawaii, Rhode Island, Alaska, Vermont, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Iowa, the two largest health insurers control at least 80% of the statewide market.”
In Senator Shelby’s own state of Alabama, Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the statewide market, the highest rate in the nation for a single company. Is this what he is intent on preserving? Apparently so.
Right here in Texas, two companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna, control 59% of the market. Our own Senator John Cornyn was one of 9 GOP senators who sent a letter to President Obama which said “a federal government takeover of our healthcare system would take decisions out of the hands of doctors and patients and place them in the hands of a Washington bureaucracy.” I suppose placing those decisions in the hands of an insurance company “bureaucracy” is acceptable.
But having a monopoly can be a very profitable enterprise:
“Profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007. In 2007 alone, the chief executive officers at these companies collected combined total compensation of $118.6 million—an average of $11.9 million each.
That is 468 times more than the $25,434 an average American worker made that year. Moreover, the health insurance industry invests more in buying back its own stock and rewarding its shareholders than in improving system operations, reducing premiums, or in developing ways to pay doctors and hospitals fairly.”
For those of us who pay premiums however, it’s not such a sweetheart deal. They have risen more than 87%, on average, over the past 6 years. From 1999-2007, while the average U. S. wage growth was 29%, the average premium growth was 120%.
This is the status quo that Shelby, Lieberman, Cornyn, the big insurance companies, and their lobbyists want to maintain. It’s up to us to let them know that another 15 years of business as usual is unacceptable.