America’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group Inc., is losing so much money on the Affordable Care Act exchange policies it sells in 34 states that CEO Stephen Hemsley apologized to investors in New York on Tuesday. “It was for us a bad decision,” Hemsley said, according to Bloomberg News. UnitedHealth stayed out of the Obamacare market in its first year. “In retrospect, we should have stayed out longer,” Hemsley added. UnitedHealth may get out of the individual market in 2017.
UnitedHealth spokesman Tyler Mason wanted to be clear that Hemsley was not trashing Obamacare; he simply was describing one provider’s experience.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi likes to say that Obamacare is under assault from Republicans who want to destroy the health care program, but it looks as though the program itself — written by Democrats and passed without a single Republican floor vote — is sinking under its own weight.
This is where I would expect some readers to shake their heads and mutter about conservatives not wanting the Affordable Care Act to work. Actually, conservatives understood from the get-go that what President Obama promised would not work. You can’t lower the typical family’s premiums by $2,500 annually, as Obama promised in 2007, and let people keep their old health plans and let consumers keep the doctors they like, too. As it turns out, none of those three promises was kept.
The really big lie was Obama’s assertion that he could fund near-universal health care by reducing emergency room visits. “What happens is, you don’t have health insurance, you go to the emergency room. You weren’t getting a checkup; something that might have been curable with some antibiotics isn’t caught, but by the time you get to the hospital, it’s much more expensive,” he said in 2010.
It turns out that emergency room visits are up, not down, since the requirement to have health coverage took effect, according to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
As I write, I can see some readers concluding that a single-payer plan could work better as it would focus on serving patients, not increasing insurance company profits. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, was ready to implement single-payer — and then had to admit his plan “might hurt our economy.” Twelve out of the original 23 nonprofit co-ops largely funded by Obamacare will no longer offer policies after this year. With about a third of the co-ops having closed, some half a million Americans have had to scramble for new health care plans. The co-ops claimed they didn’t receive the promised federal support.
In other boardrooms, the news is grim. “All the other big insurers are signaling the same problems,” Ana Gupte, an analyst with Leerink Partners, told The Wall Street Journal.
I’ve never understood how so many smart people could believe the claim that the government could provide more health care to more people — for less money — as Pelosi claimed in 2012 when she told “Meet the Press,” “Everybody will have lower rates, better quality care and better access.” It was magical thinking, and the results are anything but magical.