The New York Times has finally caught on to the fact that the Affordable Care Act’s biggest winners are not individual Americans but huge insurance companies. A recent piece in the paper of record notes that insurance companies benefit from vast federal subsidies and the legal mandate that everyone has to buy their stuff. In return, these companies provide support for the Affordable Care Act and the Administration, including helping to fix the troubled Healthcare.gov and backing the law against its legal challengers. Out are the ringing denunciations of insurance company profiteering that were commonplace in the Democratic party before the ACA was passed; in are gratitude and paeans to “cooperation.” More:
Since Mr. Obama signed the law, share prices for four of the major insurance companies — Aetna, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth — have more than doubled, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has increased about 70 percent.
“These companies all look at government programs as growth markets,” said Michael J. Tuffin, a former executive vice president of AmerI woI I I I
ica’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobby for the industry. “There will be nearly $2 trillion of subsidized coverage through insurance exchanges and Medicaidover the next 10 years. These are pragmatic companies. They will follow the customer.” […]
“We are in this together,” Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal insurance marketplace, told insurers at a recent conference in Washington. “You have been our partners,” and for that, he said, “we are very grateful.”
If a GOP program benefited corporate fat cats in this way, the heavens would ring with angry denunciations. Every CEO bonus, every dividend to shareholders already in the 1 percent, every campaign contribution by a grateful industry would all be reported in the way most likely to hurt the GOP at the polls. Certainly stories like this one—complete with statistics about the generous insurance company donations to GOP political candidates—would appear before the election and not after it.Throw this in with the Gruber fiasco, and it isn’t hard to see why President Obama, Democrats and the federal government remain unloved and distrusted by vast swathes of the public. If this level of cronyism and corruption bought us a sustainable health care reform, we might be inclined to accept it as necessary evil. But the ACA does too much to enrich the vested interests closest to the trough without doing enough to make health care accessible and affordable. Even though the profits accruing to the insurance industry are from people who are newly insured, many of those people still face serious barriers to health care that will only worsen as the system gets more expensive every year. That makes the law a sad waste of political capital and national political energy and attention, but at least a lot of CEOs are getting rich and a lot of politicians are receiving campaign contributions.