The plainspoken and right-minded Wendell Potter tells us what we should already know:
“CIGNA and Humana are scheduled to report earnings this week. The three companies that have already spoken — UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna — earned a combined $2.51 billion from April through the end of June, more than analysts expected. On a per share basis, their earnings were up more than 17 percent on average compared with the second quarter of 2010.
“Those results were no anomaly. The big for-profit health insurers have been blowing analysts’ expectations out of the water for several quarters in a row, even as the country struggles to recover from the recession and the number of Americans without coverage — one out of every six of us — continues to rise.
“Based on their strong performance during the first half of this year, UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna have all have raised their profit forecast for 2011. In other words, they expect to earn far more this year than last year and far more than even the most hopeful investors and analysts had anticipated.
“This has made Wall Street very happy indeed, as reflected in the breathtaking increase in the companies’ share prices over the past year. Since the end of July 2010, investors have bid up the stock by more than 50 percent at four of the big five. WellPoint, the laggard, saw its stock price increase by a still-impressive 35 percent.
“One of the secrets to achieving these results is what the insurers euphemistically call “medical management.” That often translates into denied claims and denied coverage for doctor-ordered care. The fewer claims you pay and the more procedures you refuse to pay for, the more money is left over for investors to put in their pockets.
“Another important way they’ve been able to sustain such a string of impressive earnings results is to shift more and more of the cost of care to their policyholders. An increasing percentage of these companies’ policyholders are enrolled in plans that require greater cost sharing. Those policyholders pay more for care out of their own pockets than ever before while their insurers are paying much less.”
…and Europe laughs and shakes its head…