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The Money Pit:  Health Insurance Executives' Pay
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The Money Pit: Health Insurance Executives' Pay


Last year was a very good year for H. Edward Hanway. The CEO of Cigna made $14.6 million in 2009.(1) He retired on December 31. Here is some of what this money could have paid for, based on national averages:

  • Health insurance for 3,000 individuals ($4,824 each) or 1,100 families ($13,375 each)
  • 241 nurses ($60,000 per year each)
  • 209,000 additional prescriptions filled ($70 each)

Did Hanway contribute as much to the nation's health as 241 full-time nurses would have?

The total compensation for the top four executives under Ms. Braly at Wellpoint totaled $20 million in 2009, meaning Wellpoint paid out $33 million just to its top five executives.

Hanway's compensation isn't at all atypical. Ronald Williams, Aetna's CEO made over $18 million in 2009.(2) And Angela Braly, the CEO of Wellpoint, made $13.1 million in 2009.(3) This was a 51% increase over Ms. Braly's 2008 compensation, and it came at a time when Wellpoint's subsidiary, Anthem Blue Cross, proposed premium increases of up to 39% for Californians.

Hundreds of Millions of Dollars For Salaries, Not Care

And these are just the salaries of CEOs. Health insurance companies have many other highly compensated, top-level executives. At Wellpoint, at least three of them received compensation increases of up to 75% in 2009.(4) The total compensation for the top four executives under Ms. Braly at Wellpoint totaled $20 million in 2009,(5) meaning Wellpoint paid out $33 million just to its top five executives.

The ten largest health insurance companies insured roughly 118 million Americans in 2008.(6) Taking Wellpoint's compensation figures as typical suggests that these 10 companies paid over $300 million dollars to their executives in 2009. While this is only a crude estimate, it serves to define a ballpark figure for overall executive compensation: hundreds of millions of dollars, at minimum. This is all money paid for by health insurance premiums that buys little or no health care. Some might call it a money pit for health care dollars.

Executive compensation isn't the only reason health care costs are so high. Hospital procedures have grown more costly and doctor's fees have also risen. But it's hard to imagine a health care system without doctors or hospitals. A health care system without health insurance executives is not only possible, it existed well into the 20th century. And the first widespread health insurance companies were non-profits.

The current health care system is nothing more than an accident of history. Melissa Thomasson, an economic historian and professor at the University of Miami (Ohio), published an article in 2003 which details the development of the U.S. health care system from its infancy.(7) This article shows that the system in place today is not part of the natural order of the universe; it evolved through a series of historical accidents. There is nothing sacred about it.

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(5) Comments have been made

cousin BS
"an honest days pay for an honest days work"...laughable, all around. Everyone involved in the health care industry executive level) should be ashamed. However all we need to avoid this negative attention is a good health scare....umhum,ebola so everyone can revere our necessity !!
Posted Tue, Nov. 18, 2014 at 8:57 am EST
Another wonderful article of ignorance targeted at the economically undereducated. Considering the total premiums paid to these companies, if you were to completely eliminate the salaries of all top executes, it would drop everyone's rates by somewhere between 2 and 3 dollars per year. I guess that solves the healthcare crisis! And few people would trade their private insurance policy for medicare or medicaid if the cost was the same so that comparison is worthless. The cost of health insurance has risen because the cost of health CARE has risen. If you want to make the argument as to whether or not their compensation is fair, that is a different story, but twisting facts to prey on those less informed about insurance is unethical and perpetuates ignorance.
Posted Mon, Oct. 6, 2014 at 10:25 pm EDT
Dee Kohley
Another fine mess has been created. Suddenly the prices for hundreds of generic medications have had price increases of epic proportions. I can't quite figure out who is making the huge profits from this. Pharmacy buys a cream and bills the insurance the new price, the insurance reimburses at the old maximum allowed cost, the pharmacy must dispense it according to contract. This is happening all day long. How long will we remain in business Mr. Hanway. Help!
Posted Thu, May. 15, 2014 at 1:19 pm EDT
The fact that these predators earn these exorbitant amounts is disgusting while my doctor is closing his private practice to become an employee of the local hospital. Sad state of affairs. I thought if you went to medical school and worked 12 hour days every day saving lives you's earn more than a charlatan who skims off the top. Stephen Hemsley, CEO O UnitedHeatlthCare earned $106 million. Google it.
Posted Mon, Apr. 7, 2014 at 9:35 pm EDT
how come the media does not cover compensation problems
Posted Thu, Feb. 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm EST

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