Insurer profits rise while coverage falls


Steve Chiotakis: A report on America's top health insurers is out, and it makes for good reading if you're an investor -- not so much if you're a customer or a patient. Health Care for America Now -- that's a pro-reform group -- says profits shot up last year at the nation's top five private insurance companies. But at the same time, more than 2.5 million people lost coverage. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.

Mitchell Hartman: Combined profits at UnitedHealth, Humana, Aetna, WellPoint and Cigna rose 56 percent in 2009. And the share of premiums actually spent on health care declined at several companies.

Judy Feder is with the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

Judy Feder: They are actually increasing their premiums and increasing their profits while dropping people from their rolls.

Les Funtleyder: 2008 was a terrible year. So the comparisons, while numerically correct, leave out a bit of context.

Health care analyst Les Funtleyder at Miller Tabak says millions of people lost coverage last year because they lost their jobs, not because insurers purged their rolls. Still, he says, higher profits and premiums in a recession doesn't make the industry look good.

A spokesman for the industry's trade association said financial performance did improve in 2009, but said insurers still operate at lower profit margins than medical providers and drug companies.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.


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