‘The Greed of UnitedHealth Is Killing Americans’: Progressives Hit Back as Insurance CEO Bashes Medicare for All

Yves here. I very much like the use of the word “disrupt” as what needs to happen to health care in the US. Heretofore, Silicon Valley squillionaries “disrupt” has been treated as the business press as meaning “shake up an industry for the benefit of consumers” when it has often meant “show revenue growth by putting existing players out of business so we can sell our stake to a greater fool at a profit.” In other words, disruption is understood to be more to the benefit of the disruptors than the end users. Disruptors never worry about externalities either, like scooters littering urban sidewalks.

So the difference between the Medicare for All disruption and Silicon Valley disruption include:

Single payer will hurt big company CEOs and well paid managers and office workers more than other types of disruption, which tends to hit moderate to low wage laborers hardest

Government will be driving this train, so redistribution from workers to capitalists and rentier isn’t an objective. It’s that the current system isn’t working for anyone but the incumbents so outside pressure needs to be brought to bear. If redistribution upwards happens at all, will be an accidental byproduct that occurs only in marginal cases

You won’t hear horrible business jargon as a form of porcine maquillage

By Jake Johnson, staff writer, Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

The CEO of America’s largest private insurance company faced a flood of pushback from progressives Tuesday after he launched a misleading attack on Medicare for All.

UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann said during a call with investors that Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system”—a common talking point that has been deployed by the right-wing media, Republicans, and establishment Democrats.

“We will end the insurance company denials of care, eliminate premiums, deductibles and co-pays, no longer allow our taxes to subsidize their profits.”
—Michael Lighty

“And the inherent cost burden would surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs—all without fundamentally increasing access to care,” Wichmann said.

Under the Medicare for All plans introduced in both the House and Senate, every American would be guaranteed comprehensive health coverage. Two studies released over the past year—including one from a Koch-funded think tank—showed single-payer would result in trillions of dollars in savings compared to the current for-profit system.

“As usual, an insurance company CEO has got it backward—Medicare for All stabilizes healthcare for people, as Senator [Bernie] Sanders said last night on Fox News, and disrupts the failed business model of the insurance industry,” Michael Lighty, founding fellow of the Sanders Institute, told Common Dreams.

“So yes, we will end the insurance company denials of care, eliminate premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, no longer allow our taxes to subsidize their profits,” Lighty said. “We will ‘destabilize’ UnitedHealth’s ability to enrich themselves at the expense of our healthcare.”

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ staff director, added that he is not concerned about the feelings of health insurance executives.

“Whether the UnitedHealth CEO likes it or not, we will no longer tolerate a system allowing him to make $83.2 million while Americans go bankrupt when they get sick,” Gunnels tweeted. “The greed of UnitedHealth is killing Americans. Together, we will end it.”

Wichmann’s comments came as the stocks of UnitedHealth Group and other insurance giants tumbled to 52-week lows.

“Health insurers including Anthem Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp. were down sharply Tuesday morning, as were hospitals HCA Healthcare Inc. and Community Health Systems Inc.,” Bloomberg reported. “Health insurance stocks have been rattled in the first few months of 2019 as Democratic presidential contenders have emerged to back variations of Medicare for All. The sell-off has sent the S&P 500 Managed Care Index to its lowest level in nearly a year.”

Politico‘s Dan Diamond pointed out on Twitter that UnitedHealth Group has lost $30 per share since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced his Medicare for All bill in the Senate last week.

As Common Dreams reported last Friday, a whistleblower from UnitedHealthcare—a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group—provided a glimpse into the company’s behind-the-scenes effort to undermine Medicare for All as it continues to gain support in Congress.

“We are advocating heavily and very involved in the conversation,” UnitedHealthcare CEO Steven Nelson said in remarks leaked to the Washington Post. “Part of it is trying to be thoughtful about how we enter in the conversation, because there’s a risk of seeming like it’s self-serving.”

The anonymous whistleblower told the Post‘s Jeff Stein he leaked Nelson’s comments because he “felt Americans needed to know exactly who it is that’s fighting against the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

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    1. ambrit

      Wait a minute mon Colonel. I thought that the head of the National Health was a bureaucrat, part of the government. Surely such a beastie cannot be a CEO. I thought, (I’ll have to curtail that pernicious habit,) that a CEO was a private business term. Is this an artifact of the shift in perspective of England’s neo-liberal Masters?
      Poor Boris. Everytime I read that he went to university, my inner eye throws up the image of a rugby player sitting on the highstool in the corner of the classroom wearing the Duns Scotus wizard hat.
      (Wikipedia is suddenly timing out on me. Time to retire in good order.)

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Ambrit.

        Over the past two decades, business titles have been introduced into the civil service. For example, there are Managing Directors at the Treasury.

        In addition, appointments are being made from the private sector. In Whitehall, it’s often the big professional services firms, e.g. Charles Roxburgh from McKinsey, and banks. The late Jeremy Heywood spent a couple of years at Morgan Stanley, using his contacts book to open doors and ensure favours. At provincial level, managers for social services have been recruited from coffee shops and car dealerships. No previous experience in the particular field is required.

        NB Roxburgh’s wife is the UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, someone who tries too hard to be a hawk. I think it’s the hair cut from Working Girl that stops her from being taken seriously.

        1. Susan the other`

          This trend is economics by stealth politics. The post above about maintaining the independence (aka non-political mandate) of the ECB is even more amusing when you think about all the politics that has happened to destroy good social progress, but we are fed the nonsense of “Nothing to see here, move along.” And it was almost shocking to hear it reported that Boris Johnson is saying that as soon as Brexit is accomplished the UK will have much better social progress, better national health care (what a whopper), and etc. So Boris is on the BS bandwagon personally. He is nervous that Brexit will fail.

          1. witters

            So am I – though not for the same reasons (I can never fathom those who claim to be left, then cheer the pure neoliberal de-democratised EU in TINA terms).

        2. Joe Well

          That’s like when Bloomberg (that Bloomberg, billionaire media mogul) became mayor of New York and shook things up by, for instance, appointing a former prosecutor with no experience in education as the head of public schools. And the rot went from the top down, loyalty to the new regime valued above competence with experience seemingly having a negative value.

      2. Colonel Smithers

        I forgot to mention that there are Guineas trials at Newmarket this afternoon. The first classics are two week-ends away.

  1. William Beyer

    Let’s not forget that a former CEO of United Health, Dr. Bill McGuire, was forced to resign due to back-dated stock options not that long ago. Apparently, earning $100 million a year wasn’t enough. Of course, he didn’t go to jail, and now owns Minnesota’s professional soccer team, which just opened in a fancy new stadium, heavily subsidized by taxpayers. After McGuire was kicked out, UHC went on to expand their already-opulent Minnetonka headquarters with at least a billion dollars worth of new office buildings over the last decade. Amazing how much of the business of America is a criminal enterprise.

    1. timbers

      Maybe Robin Leech (“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”) can be brought back to debut a new TV series “Lifestyles of ACA beneficiaries and health insurance CEO’s.”

      Nancy Pelosi and call mandatory House sessions requiring every member to view each episode in Congress the night it appears on TV and Barack Obama can host and give a warm up speech before each episode by sharing with House members all those public health reform meetings he held on CNN as he glows in front of Congress about the successes of his awesome Republican inspired insurance mandate. Hillary too can host and she can tell Congress that even irredemable deplorables are entitled to be forced to pay for insurance for their own good while she and Obama get their tax payer funded free healthcare.

    2. Allegorio

      This is state capitalism, Stalinism. Government officials sit on the board of directors for large corporations. Corporate officials become government commissars. “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it”. The price of entry into the club is birth and Ivy League Universities. It needs to be stressed the place that these corporate universities have had in the corruption of our societies. Hordes of university bureaucrats making six figure salaries while adjunct professors make less then minimum wage.

      Like Stalinism dissent is not tolerated. A massive surveillance state that would make Lavrenty Beria blush has been set up to protect the corrupt elites. Habeas Corpus has been repealed. The Goebbels School of Journalism holds sway throughout the land. War Criminals go free while the truth tellers are jailed. Free Julian Assange!

      “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, By giving you no time instead of it all, Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all, A Working Class Hero is something to be.”
      Let’s take a cue from Julian Assange and do something a little bit heroic to stop this plague of corruption.

      A million people in the streets. The sound of marching feet is all these psychopaths will hear. “Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé! Contre nous de la tyrannie…..Aux armes, citoyens!, Formez vos bataillons!, Marchons! Marchons!”

  2. divadab

    Name and Shame these greedy scum. This guy Wichmann is so detached from the reality of what he is doing that he says such appallingly stupid things. Truly a Marie Antoinette moment.

    Wichmann is a poster child for the need to reintroduce the 90% tax bracket for incomes over $1 million. Then destroy his parasitic business and his parasitic wealth, profiteering on the misery of the sick and broken. Filthy moral degenerate who thinks he is virtuous while epitomising the sin of cupidity.

  3. Adam1

    “Is he worried about @AOC and @SenSanders destabilizing our health care system, or his bank account?”

    I doubt he sees (or knows) a difference.

  4. oaf

    “destabilize the nation’s health system”

    …about Famlyblogn time. Parasites.

    …not symbiotes;


  5. Henry Moon Pie

    Here’s a recent example of our marvelously “stable” health care system. Our daughter’s mother-in-law has worked for one of the more famous hospitals in the world for multiple decades. She’s now in her early 70s and has kept working to keep her “stable” health care insurance for as long as possible. For weeks, she’s been suffering from severe back pain in the area of a kidney. After an exam, her doctor recommended an MRI and ultrasound. Guess what that “stable” health care insurance company said to the doctor’s recommendation?

    This woman and her husband are excellent examples of people who are faithful to this system. Despite losing all their retirement savings in ’08, they remained believers, continuing to work into their 70s in an effort to replenish their savings and pursue their dream of retiring comfortably. Their health is shot from the stress of commuting and working in an environment that has been trying to force them out for years. On top of that, two of their children and their families are dependent upon them for monthly stipends to keep going in some semblance of a middle class lifestyle. (This does not include our daughter and her husband who have been living free in our urban hippie commune for the last year saving up a down payment for a house.)

    In my view, two things are grinding these people into dust. This lovely system is one contributor. The other component is their tenacious clinging to American consumerism. They trade cars every two or three years. They live in a nearly all-white suburb with high property taxes to support schools they no longer use. They take expensive vacations two or three times a year. They eat out almost every night.

    At some level, they are horrified at the way that things have gone wrong for them and the country, but the explanation they cling to is that affirmative action somehow caused all this.

    1. False Solace

      That’s really sad.

      My dad was a paramedic most of his working life. Through this experience he came to believe that EMTALA and Medicaid mean that everyone gets the health care they need. I guess a destitute person getting a free ambulance ride is the same as chemotherapy, who knew? I spent countless hours trying to explain the huge, life-killing problems with the US health care system. He refused to believe me. Worse, I know that when the topic comes up now he just nods at me and ignores what I say to keep the peace. He and my mom get to sail off into retirement on a gold-plated publicly funded health care plan thanks to his previous union job. Big Fox News and InfoWars watcher, too.

      He has never experienced what I do and fundamentally does not care.

  6. a different chris

    And did anybody notice this (it goes well beyond healthcare)

    >UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann
    >UnitedHealthcare CEO Steven Nelson

    I’m like, OK, two “CEOs” not bad my multinational has like 6 I think. But there are no doubt more, as when you try to Google out the company you find there is United Health Group -> PacifiCare Health Systems -> UnitedHealthCare. So PacifiCare Health Systems no doubt also has a “CEO”, whatever that even means these days. I didn’t google it as my stomach was already turned enough.

    And that’s just one leg of the octopus. What a (family blog)ing mess our overclass has made of everything. I guess you have to do something with all those otherwise useless Ivy League grads.

    PS: really bad that CNBC can’t even get a bill sponsor correct. Jesus.

    1. Knifecatcher

      OK, digging in a little deeper between UnitedHealth Group, UnitedHealthcare, and Optum I count a total of 8 CEOs for this one company.


      David S. Wichmann – Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealth Group
      Steve Nelson – Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealthcare
      Sir(?!) Andrew Witty – Chief Executive Officer, Optum
      Heather Cianfrocco – Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealthcare Community & State
      Brian Thompson – Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement
      Andrew Hayek – Chief Executive Officer, OptumHealth
      Eric Murphy – Chief Executive Officer, OptumInsight
      John Prince – Chief Executive Officer, OptumRx

      That’s just actual CEO titles. Plenty of Presidents, Executive Vice Presidents, COOs, and other CXO grifters in the mix.

      But of course they’re all selflessly concerned about destabilizing the nation’s health system…

  7. chuck roast

    Oh, man…I love that graph! In red yet!
    Visual evidence that we are going in the right direction.

  8. Susan the other`

    Thanks for this post. We needed some good news. Nothing like a Koch-funded think tank to trip these guys up. I’ve been thinking that the insurance companies have been hanging on by their fingernails because they anticipate all the advances in medical technology to be their next Las Vegas. They can set the prices and skim another decade or two of obscene profits. How did these weasels insinuate themselves into our lives like this?

    1. rd

      The rest of the developed world has been proving that corporate healthcare costs are much lower using pretty much any other system than the current US system. I have been utterly baffled by the lack of interest by the non-healthcare part of the corporate sector in a complete revamp of US healthcare to slash a major bottom line cost, both monetary and organizational. Companies will come up with the most ludicrous “Cost-cutting” efforts while this pig is allowed to wander free chewing up their profits.

      1. JBird4049

        Businesses of all sizes have been interested for decades; HR can scream as loudly as they can and the smaller businesses’ managements can also collectively scream, but it is the largest and wealthiest corporations that dictate the non-insurance businesses’ responses, which they are not that concerned about as the upper management gets the gold plating while everyone else gets the dross. Also the entire FIRE section of the economy is overwhelming the rest of the American economy in money and therefore control.

    2. Grayce

      BlueCross BlueShield began as a mutual insurance company, a not-for profit. It was a great thing for the subscriber/member/co-owners. Then, maybe in the 1960s, “demutualization” came along. Suddenly, there were super co-owners and ordinary co-owners–who knew?. The supers had bigger “shares” who knows why. The ordinarys were given something for “consideration” and no shares or ownership. The supers ended up with shares aka stock.
      Now Anthem is the big for-profit behemoth of BCBS. If and when health insurance is again only not-for-profit, or entirely not-for-profit, then the “stakeholder” shareholders will not make the greed-is-good decisions. Abusive administrative costs could cease to be explained as “it’s only business.”
      Isn’t there already a law against selling a life? Cannot a great technical thinker find an unconstitutionality in gambling with life as the stake? We may or may not need a single payer, but in the present state, competition is not bringing down the prices.

  9. Cal2

    I believe in numbers. One of the most successful signs in the Stop & Shop grocery store picket line mentioned a few days ago in N.C. was the one showing their corporate profits for the year, the growth rate of same and payments to CEOs. The image was shown in a twitter feed that I can’t find.

    Strike info:

    The same should be done to educate the public on United Health Care.
    Show the CEO salary, the value of the company and their profits.

    People can make the comparison between their own medical-financial situation and the CEO pay.

    p.s. It’s begging for a letter change: “United Wealth Care.”

  10. templar555510

    You are right Ambrit , but that was back in the day; before Thatcher. For a full explanation of how we got from there to here watch Adam Curtis’s film ‘ The Trap ‘ . The present Secretary for State for Health and Social Care ( don’t laugh ) is one Matt Hancock a curious bird if ever there was one. No doubt the colonel will have some inside griff, but as an old Keith Richards loving geezer I just wonder just what kind of special juice the Tories have to go on summoning up these throw-backs and promoting them as ‘ modern ‘ .

  11. DHG

    This company is unbelievable, I just canned them as my Medicare Advantage company as they refused to stop calling me multi times in a week for this and that. I changed to a new company and used an old phone number with them I wont be bombarded especially after I tell them to leave me alone. The CEO exposed for who and what he truly is.

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