Health Insurers

October 2, 2007


Health insurers, never at the top of anyone’s Christmas list, took a drubbing in public opinion in the past year thanks in part to Michael Moore’s rendering of them in his movie Sicko as single-mindedly focused on insuring the young, hoping the old die quickly and denying coverage to everyone in between.

Yet this hasn’t affected profits. The industry continues to consolidate and, even though the percentage of small employers offering health coverage dropped to a new low of 59 percent, insurers are bringing value to shareholders. Even UnitedHealth Group, beset by a scandal over backdating stock options, remains the revenue king with $74.2 billion in the past 12 months, compared with $56.1 billion last year.

All this in a year when the growth of the cost of premiums slowed to 6.1 percent, the smallest increase since 1999, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Analysts said the drop reflected a strategy among health insurers to slow down increases in order to woo members from competitors at a time when the pool of insured Americans is stagnating.

Now, however, with health insurance reform polling as the No. 1 domestic issue, talk of "individual mandate" and "universal coverage" is coming from presidential candidates. The 47 million uninsured Americans are beginning to look like the next great customer base for health insurers. Rest assured, Michael Moore is watching.

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