My old colleagues in the insurance industry are up to their old tricks. Bruce Broussard, the CEO of my former employer, Humana, referred to Medicare for All as “a great opportunity” on Tuesday.
It is a great opportunity! Finally, we can have comprehensive universal healthcare.
We can remove the burden of providing health insurance from employers, who—once Medicare is improved and expanded to cover all of us—can raise wages, invest in new markets, create new jobs, and be more competitive internationally.
Medical professionals will no longer be drowning in paperwork. We won’t have to hear any more horrifying stories of people dying while rationing their insulin or losing their life savings from a cancer diagnosis. Or not being able to get the care they need because of the ever-increasing barriers insurance companies are erecting between patients and their doctors.
Of course, these aren’t the opportunities he’s referring to. You see, Humana ostensibly exists to sell health insurance that protects their customers from financial disaster when they need healthcare. But in reality, Mr. Broussard’s top priority is to further enrich Humana’s shareholders (including himself). And he’s doing a very good job of that by soaking taxpayers through the company’s Medicare Advantage plans.
Privately operated Medicare Advantage plans are now among the largest drivers of many insurance companies’ revenue and profit growth. They also profit from the supplemental plans they sell to help cover the coinsurance obligations of people enrolled in the traditional Medicare program. Under the improved and expanded Medicare program that will be created when Congress passes a Medicare for All bill, those supplemental plans will no longer have a market.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have allowed Medicare Advantage plans, which cost the government more, to cannibalize traditional Medicare. Humana and many other companies are ubiquitous advertisers, and their sales pitch is like a siren call. A Humana salesman once told me selling Medicare Advantage plans was like “shooting fish in a barrel”. What the companies don’t highlight is the shortcomings of most Medicare Advantage plans, things like “skinny” networks that severely restrict access to health care providers and provisions that make enrollees pay the full cost of non-emergency care outside of their home regions. Want to spend the winter in Florida? If you’re in one of many Medicare Advantage plans, don’t get sick or hurt while you’re there if you don’t have a big bank account.
That’s why an Improved Medicare for All system is so important. Like the bill recently introduced by Representative Jayapal that covers dental, vision, reproductive, and long-term care in addition to basic medical and emergency services.
The industry knows that healthcare reform is inevitable, but they will try and hijack that movement, using powerful allies in Congress, including their relationships with Democratic leadership, to create a system where they still play a central and expensive role. Then they’ll hop on the bandwagon.
It’s the same game-plan they followed when they systematically weakened the ACA before finally getting on board.
Let’s not let people like that Humana salesman keep fishing in a barrel. We need to remain vigilant, push our elected officials to support a real Medicare for All system, and eliminate the insidious, inefficient, and unnecessary commercial health insurance industry once and for all.
Wendell Potter is the president of Business Initiative for Health Policy.