America's sports writers had all but ceded the coveted "Corporate Greedhead Trophy" to the Wall Street Barons this year but — holy cow — here come the Health Care Insurance Giants!
To paraphrase my old high school football coach, "when the going gets ugly, the ugly get going" — and our country's five largest health insurance corporations are definitely making a run for the trophy. They recently stunned greed-watchers with an announcement that they had scored record profits in 2009, totaling $12.2 billion. Wow — that's a 56 percent hike in profits over the previous year for United Health, Wellpoint, Aetna, Humana and Cigna!
Wait, that's not all, the Insurance Giants also booted 2.7 million Americans out of their health plans last year, leaving these older and sicker customers in the corporate dust. Then, in a slick, hidden-ball play, three of the five Giants shifted more of their customers' premiums out of providing medical care, instead siphoning more of that money into corporate profits, executive salaries and administrative overhead. I'm telling you, these guys can play!
Check out the spectacular "Hail Mary" pass heaved by Anthem Blue Cross, a California subsidiary of Wellpoint. Even though Wellpoint is rolling in a 91 percent increase in profits, its Anthem unit suddenly streaked toward the goal line, shocking its unsuspecting customers with a demand for a 39 percent increase in their premiums this year. This rate hike is 10 times more than the rise in the actual cost of health care. What a move!
Still, it won't be easy for the upstart Insurance Giants to out-ugly the more sophisticated Wall Street Barons. But the great thing about the corporate league is that competition to be the No. 1 national greedhead is always fierce — and insurance is definitely in the running.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.