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What’s With the Health Insurers?

If you parse Barack Obama’s statements, and the talking points spouted in recent days by his surrogates all over Medialand, Blogostan, and Universitopia, you could be excused for thinking that health insurance companies are evil incarnate. Obama and his acolytes are saying that private health insurers need a massive government-funded competitor, in order to force them to reduce waste, embrace more risk, and be less profitable.

In recent days, I’ve been paying attention to the four largest publicly-owned health insurers: UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Cigna International, and Aetna. I’m curious for one thing to know just how much money Obama can save by forcing these companies to operate without making a profit. Answer: well below $10 billion a year. Considering that Obama’s own lowball bid for national health insurance is $1 trillion in new spending over the next ten years, he’s going to get less than 10% of what he needs by wiping out the common shareholders of these four companies.

So you’d guess they’re in big trouble, right? Think again. As I write around 1pm EDT on Tuesday the 16th, all four of those stocks are up sharply, anywhere from 3 to almost 7 percent. The other dominant companies in health insurance are the “Blues,” Blue Cross and Blue Shield. It’s harder to get financial information on them.

Something is going on here. I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out.


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