Tag Archives: medical insurance

How Much Money do Insurance Companies Spend so the Laws Keep Them Rich (and Make Them Richer)?

2 Aug

Large corporations hire full time employees to go to Washington D.C. and attend every political event/hearing/meeting they can, with the hopes to influence the politicians who are writing our laws and regulations (in their favor, of course). These dedicated employees/spies/salesman are called Lobbyists.

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In the United States, lobbying began here, in the the Willard Hotel lobby. So which came first – the lobby or the lobbyist?

There is a lot of debate about whether lobbying is fundamentally ethical, and some countries have severely resticted the activity (i.e. In the Netherlands a former government official cannot become a lobbyist and then lobby his previous government office.).

Lobbying is Big $ Business

Whether you think lobbying is a good idea or not, what is most concerning about lobbying is that all the money spent on lobbyists has the potential to taint and corrupt what might have started out as a neutral and noble concept (Isn’t that the truth with almost anything in life?). In the insurance industry alone, about $153 MILLION dollars was spent in 2016 to lobby government officials.

Should they Really Spend THAT Much Money?

Blue Cross/Blue Shield spent $19 Million just on their own, which when you think about the current status of Obamacare and potential reform to the American medical insurance markets which remains at stake, it isn’t a surprise. But isn’t that also more than a little annoying? I mean, these large insurance corporations are constantly telling us that they have sooo many expenses, so in order to keep our premium costs low, they don’t want to be approving too many claims or spending too much money, and then they turn around and spend $19 MILLION DOLLARS in ONE YEAR on their advocates in Washington D.C.

Think about that for a minute. NINETEEN MILLION DOLLARS. That could provide a lot of medical care for a whole lot of people (even at the current ridiculously high prices in the U.S.). And what exactly are they spending that exhorbitant sum on? You could fund an entire year’s salary for thousands of lawyers to plague every government representative, their staff, and even their mailmen. Is all that really necessary?

But maybe it is. It brings to mind the old adage heard from elders when they know someone has been up to no good, and yet that same someone is the loudest screamer when it’s time for reconciliation “Thou dost protest too much.”

What Are They Lobbying For?

Make no mistake, insurance company lobbyists are not spending all that money nobly advocating for better insurance coverage and lower premiums for Americans, they are advocating to keep their very profitable bottom line and protect their shareholders’ profits. 

If this feels troubling to you as an insurance policyholder, but you can’t quite pinpoint why – let me help you see it more clearly.

Insurance Companies Have a Deeply Troubling Conflict of Interest

The God Janus: Two-Faced

Two-Faced Roman God Janus – Is he double-dealing? (Credit Wikipedia)

In the last few hundreds years, there was a shift away from the concept of insurance provided to actually HELP people in their time of need, and toward insurance as a big money-making industry where profit rules and the shareholder is king. Today, American insurance companies spend millions upon millions on splashy advertising meant to convince you they are trustworthy, and then behind your back they spend millions upon millions of your premium dollars on lobbyists who convince YOUR government representatives that they should not enact laws to protect you from bad insurance company behavior.  It’s a masterful act of double-dealing, caused by the troubling conflict of interest a for-profit insurance company has between service to its policyholders and making profits for its shareholders. They only thing that protects you from this conflict is the LAW. And yet, your own insurance company is lobbying to keep those laws from being written.

Typically, lobbying is not an inherently bad activity, as long as certain ethical rules are followed. In the insurance industry, it’s deeply problematic.

To see the full list of monies spent by insurance companies, and see where your insurer stands in the rankings, go to Opensecrets.org.

When Insurance Companies Merge

29 Jul

 

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Giant Insurance Company Logo Collage (courtesy of Hartford Courant)

Depending on who you ask, insurance company mergers will either help or hurt consumers. Whether a merger in general is a good or a bad thing is debatable. The problem today is that there have already been so many mergers of insurance companies that we are heading directly toward an oligopoly or monopoly, which is a well-established BAD thing for consumers. Healthy competition is a building block to a free market economy.

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Competition is a Spectator Sport (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

As a general rule in the insurance world, any time the federal government is actually motivated to step in and do something, it’s probably because an issue of vital and imminent importance has entered their radar screen. And so, the Justice Department has stepped in to investigate the proposed mergers between Humana and Aetna, and Cigna and Anthem.

The Hartford Courant (based in the U.S. headquarters of the insurance industry, Hartford, CT) has written a very nice article about how different sectors of the population will be affected in the event of the proposed merger of these giant insurance companies – seniors, low income families, employers, and physicians and health care providers.

Is Health Insurance a Human Right?

16 May
Children Ponder the UDHR

Children Ponder the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (photo credit: United Nations website)

Many of you may know that besides my law degree, I have a Specialization in International Law. I was fortunate enough to train at one of the top schools for International Law, DePaul University. While I did not follow the path to a career in the field, I am in contact with many who did, and I still find myself questioning our American society with an eye toward international standards. Which brings me to my current pondering – Should health insurance be considered an inherent human right?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948)

In the post-World War period, nations were occupied with how to prevent another devastating world war from transpiring. After all, leaders had already done their best in the years after WWI to prevent another mass human slaughter, and look where that got them. Clearly they needed some fresh strategies. At the United Nations, talks were in progress for the drafting of a treaty which would detail the inherent and inalienable rights of a human. If you are born a human, you have these human rights – simple as that. The lead drafter of this document was none other than American politician and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Our Inalienable Right to Health

Article 25 of the UDHR (emphasis added):

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The UDHR was unanimously adopted by the United Nations in 1948 (48 yays and 8 abstentions). So how is it that sixty-six years later, in 2014, we are JUST NOW readjusting our health system so that those without insurance coverage have a new chance at obtaining it? While it is true that medical care can be accessed without insurance, in the United States it has become largely unaffordable for the uninsured. Quite simply, people die early and easily preventable deaths in our country, because they are un- (or under-) insured. It happened in my own family, as recently as January.

I, for one, find this to be an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. Our country had more sense and human compassion during those post world war days than it does today. Today we are increasingly becoming corporate pawns, unable to think for ourselves and happy to take home our satisfactory paycheck and believe the uplifting stories we are fed by corporate media. If we don’t start looking around us and noticing the suffering of our compatriots, we could end up embroiled in crises we cannot yet comprehend. Perhaps another Revolution? I hope not. Our predecessors drafted documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to prevent those very bloody catastrophes from occurring.

American Flags

American Flags

I am thankful that our government finally addressed the lack of equal access to health care in this country, even if it took them a shameful sixty-six years to make a bold move toward that ideal standard our very own Eleanor Roosevelt helped memorialize. Every nation of the world should periodically pause to recall the massive amount of suffering and death the world experienced in WWs I and II, and strive to reach the principles set out by the UDHR. As Article 1 of the Declaration states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Amen to that.

 

 

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