CNN’s Wayne Drash (@drashmanCNN) has written a series of gut-wrenching, infuriating and telling stories recently regarding the health insurance industry’s treatment of policyholders. They illustrate how profit is a more powerful motivator to the health insurance industry that policyholders. Anyone interested in this issue specifically or responsible corporate behavior in general should take a look at Mr. Drash’s work.
In the most recent of these stories, Mr. Drash tells the story of Erika Zak, a 38-year-old mother whose stage 4 metastatic colon cancer had spread to her liver. Without a liver transplant, Erika’s doctors say, she would die. She is in the end stages of liver failure and her oncologists fear for her life every day. After Erika was evaluated by numerous highly qualified doctors, it was determined her only chance of survival was a liver transplant. She and her family rejoiced when she was put on the liver transplant recipient list.
That joy was short-lived. Soon thereafter, UnitedHealth denied coverage for the liver transplant. Erika and her family didn’t take no for an answer, however, and fought UnitedHealth at every turn, in every way they knew how. All they wanted was what they knew Erika deserved, a chance at life with a new liver. UnitedHealth was persistent in its denials, even in the face of the medicla evidence and Erika’s dire need for treatment. To their credit, Erika and her family didn’t quit. They wrote scathing, heartfelt letters to the CEO of UnitedHealth. These fell on deaf ears. The suffering they went through was tremendous, and this affected Erika and her family. Then, incredibly, without explanation (even to CNN when asked) UnitedHealth changed its position and agreed to pay for Erika’s liver transplant. Now Erika is waiting for a donor liver to come available. Mr. Drash’s storytelling of Erika’s journey is well worth the time to read. It’s a real morality tale.
Here’s hoping one comes available soon so Erika and her loving family and her little girl can enjoy a long and happy life together. Everyone should be pulling for Erika. I certainly am.
This travesty begs the question: Why should a person in Erika’s shoes have to beg and cajole an insurance company to provide the coverage she is entitled to? The answer: she shouldn’t. If there is coverage for Erika’s transplant under her UnitedHealth insurance policy now, there has been all along. Why would UnitedHealth cause such pain and sorrow before reluctantly agreeing to pay? Why was it like pulling teeth for Erika to get the life-saving treatment she has always been owed?
Maybe, just maybe, the profit motive of the insurance company has something to do with it. I don’t know what Erika’s transplant and the treatment associated with it would cost, but I would imagine the bills would be huge to a normal person. Not to UnitedHealth, though. No one health insurance claim will move UnitedHealth’s financial needle, but health insurance companies are good at making money. So they find every opportunity they can to squeeze the water out of their claim costs. Every claim is an opportunity to do so, especially the big ones like Erika’s.
David Wichmann, UnitedHealth CEO
Like its competitors in the health insurance industry, UnitedHealth has perfected the art of making money. Its 2017 financial results tell that story. UnitedHealth’s revenue for 2017 topped $200 billion for the first time ever. That’s over $22.8 million in revenue per hour. UnitedHealth made profit of over $10 billion in 2017. That’s over $27 million of profit per day and $1.1 million of profit per hour. The executives at UnitedHealth have done pretty well for themselves too. The total executive compensation at UnitedHealth for 2017 was up by 34.1%, and the compensation paid to David Wichmann (the CEO) went up by 41% in 2017. Mr. Wichmann was paid over $17 million in 2017.
What a breathtaking contrast. A young mother dying because a giant corporation won’t pay for her life-saving health care, while the executives of the company (who are ultimately responsible for the way in which the company treats its policyholders) become obscenely wealthy. This is the state of health care in America today.
If you follow the money, you find out why insurance companies disregard their duty of good faith. A sickening morality tale if there ever was one.