Health Insurers Post Record Profits

Insurance firms rake in profits as they cut patients, an advocacy group says.

ByABC News
February 12, 2010, 12:22 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- In the midst of a deep economic recession, America's health insurance companies increased their profits by 56 percent in 2009, a year that saw 2.7 million people lose their private coverage.

The nation's five largest for-profit insurers closed 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion, according to a report by the advocacy group Health Care for American Now (HCAN).

"The outsized earnings are a vivid reminder that without comprehensive national health care reform, the gatekeepers of our broken health insurance system always will put the short-term interests of Wall Street before the needs of millions of patients and a national economy plagued by joblessness," the report said.

A spokesman for the nation's health insurers said their profits are reasonable and represent only a small part overall increase in health insurance costs.

The HCAN report attributed this year's profits largely to insurers' dropping coverage of 2.7 million people, who then moved onto public insurance plans such as Medicaid.

Under questioning from reporters, Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for HCAN, conceded that insurance companies don't bear all the blame for eliminating people from their rolls. He said the recession induced many employers to cut back on benefits, including health plans. Also, many who were laid off lost their insurance coverage and were forced to enroll in Medicaid.

Even so, insurance companies have also offloaded their most expensive patients by cancelling their policies and raising premiums drastically, Kirsch asserted in a Thursday press call.

Among the report's findings on specific insurance companies: