As major health insurers continue to rake in record profits amid the economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — UnitedHealth, to take one example, just posted its most profitable quarter ever — patients and doctors have been protesting that these enormous financial gains have come at their expense.
But for months, their protests were largely in vain.
Now, Congress is finally taking a hard look at how insurers have responded to the public health crisis. The powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee recently launched an investigation into health insurers’ business practices, citing reports that insurers are denying coverage for the coronavirus while hoarding cash in reserves.
The committee said it will send letters to several insurance companies in the coming days demanding answers on behalf of the American people.
That’s a good first step, but lawmakers should call on the heads of major insurers to address these questions under sworn testimony.
There’s too much at stake to let insurers off the hook.
Health insurers have been brazen in their efforts to pad their bottom line.
The industry has reportedly engaged in strong-arm tactics that range from delaying prior authorizations to denying claims outright. In New Jersey, thirty acute care facilities said insurers had denied more than 1,000 coronavirus-related claims between March and June, in many cases questioning the medical necessity of the treatment.
Even in the best of times, such behavior would likely draw intense scrutiny.
And to be sure, the ruthless cost-cutting measures being taken by insurers are not new.
Health insurance companies have long been attempting to shrink coverage networks available to patients, for example.
They have done so in Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts , and Georgia, among other states.
But coming against the backdrop of a pandemic — when doctors, nurses, and other medical providers are battling on the front lines to help patients who are suffering from a devastating virus — the conduct of insurance companies raises important questions about whether they have put their financial interests ahead of the nation’s health.
It’s no wonder that Americans are fed up.
In a recent survey, more than half of respondents said that their insurer has not demonstrated concern for them during the pandemic.
Only one quarter said their insurer was trustworthy.
Just a few weeks ago, UnitedHealth reported more than $6.6 billion in second-quarter profits, doubling their profits from last year. And while scores of executives have voluntarily taken steep salary cuts amid the crisis, United’s leaders have pocketed millions.
Adding insult to injury, amid record profits, health insurers have deployed armies of lobbyists in Washington in an attempt to quietly advance legislation that would cut reimbursements to doctors by more than $24 billion over 10 years, according to a July 16 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In total, the health insurance industry spent more on its efforts to influence Congress in the first three months of 2020 than in any quarter in recent years.
Now, perhaps more than ever, all Americans — from individuals to industry and government — must join together to pull through this twin crisis threatening public health and undermining the economy.
In that context, Congress must press insurance companies to publicly explain their behavior during the pandemic — and ensure that the industry is doing its part to advance our common interests in protecting the health of Americans and promoting economic recovery.
John Burnett is the Managing Director and Founder of 1 Empire Group consulting firm and a business executive with over 20 years of experience in the financial services and energy pricing industries. A veteran of politics, John is an official with the New York State Republican Party and ran for New York City Comptroller in 2013. An adjunct professor at Hampton University and New York University, John’s editorials on business, the economy, policy, and politics have appeared in HuffPost, U.S. News and World Report, and Washington Examiner. He is also a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, Fox Business News, New York 1, and PIX 11 News. John holds a B.S. with honors from New York University and an MBA from The Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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