Last week was typical. My insurance company sent a “Statement of Benefits” that blood work for my physical was not done in-network and my share of the bill would run upwards of $4,000. Then my occupational therapist called to tell me the insurance company would probably not approve the treatment she recommended. Welcome to the stress and time-consuming reality of navigating health insurance claims and denials.

Liz Dupont-Diehl

My experience was a drop in the bucket – and I have good insurance, through my job. More than 200,000 of us don’t have insurance at all. For all of us, but for them far more, the constant worry about getting sick, and the fear and reality of huge medical bills are a continual drain on finances, energy and peace of mind.

Connecticut had the chance last year to pass a public option, which would have allowed small  businesses and nonprofits to join the state’s Partnership Plan. The proposal would have provided more transparency, lowered prices for all and eliminated the high-deductible plans that are crippling many businesses, nonprofits and families.

But it would have limited health insurance company profits, and five of them threatened to move jobs out of state if the Public Option passed — a threat almost certainly false, as they admit in their letter, since workers can now work from anywhere, and Connecticut’s workforce possesses the skills they need. The bill was blocked.

This bears examination — and accountability. These health care companies are returning billions of dollars in profits and pay to already-rich executives and shareholders. The Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) has published three reports (first, second, third) in a series on how this commodification of health care is impacting public health, and our economy. The results  are alarming.

Among our findings so far:

  • In 2020 alone, four of these companies took in $35.6 billion in profit. (The fifth, nonprofit Tufts Health Plan/Harvard Pilgrim Care, showed $24 million in net revenue that year.)
  • Three of the companies – Anthem, Cigna and UnitedHealth Group – also spent $9.2 billion in 2020 to repurchase their own stock, a practice criticized as a way to manipulate stock prices and further enrich executives.
  • Cigna’s David Cordani was paid $79 million in 2020. In the last year, these five companies paid their CEOs $137 million.
  • These companies, along with trade groups and dark money organizations that do not disclose their donors, reported spending $1.3 million in six months to defeat the Public Option. The actual number is likely far higher, as they failed to disclose lobbying expenditures as required by state ethics laws.
  • CCAG also found evidence that Cigna and UnitedHealth Group held captive audience meetings with their workers to pressure them to lobby against the bill.

As if this were not bad enough, three of these five – Anthem, CVS and UnitedHealth Group – are among corporations funding proponents of the Texas restrictive abortion law, with donations of more than $250,000 since 2018.

Think how we have all spent our own money to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and how we still struggle to attain significant vaccination rates. Public health experts now call for regular COVID testing to best beat the virus, but kits remain expensive and in short supply.  Nonprofits and communities struggle to pay for Community Health Workers, proven to help connect members to health care and mental health resources, overcome vaccine resistance and help people navigate the pandemic.

Just imagine if your health insurance company was investing these billions of dollars into your health instead of their own pockets. Instead, they make false threats to move jobs out of state, and employ shady tactics and dark money groups to defeat efforts to provide better care to more people.

The personal toll is tremendous, and so is the economic cost.  One in three Americans avoids medical care due to the cost. Sixty-two percent of those who filed for bankruptcy named medical bills or loss of income due to sickness or caretaking as the reason for their bankruptcy. About 19.5% of consumer credit reports include one or more medical collections. Twenty-two percent  of consumers with debts in collection have only medical debts, and 54% of consumers with medical debt have no other debts listed on their credit reports. (Source: The Checkup)

Let’s be clear: These five companies don’t care about your health. Their real goal is not your health — it’s their profit. They will blame rising hospital and drug costs, but those are only part of the problem. Denials and appeals are sadly a fact of life for all of us, and for no reason other than that our health insurance companies are ever striving to put more and more money into their pockets.

CCAG will continue to track these companies and hold them accountable – our reports are here. It’s time for people and politicians alike to call them out and demand an end to the commodification of health care. Members are paying these premiums, and health insurance companies should be judged by members’ health — not their  profits.

Liz Dupont-Diehl is Special Projects Coordinator for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group.