As millions of Americans celebrated President Biden’s inauguration, some of my former colleagues in the health insurance industry were quietly celebrating some news of their own: their most profitable year ever. 

That’s right: insurance companies made a fortune during a pandemic. 

Just hours before President Biden took the oath of office, UnitedHealthcare quietly released the news that it had blown away Wall Street’s most optimistic profit expectations for 2020, the year of the worst public health crisis in our lifetime that’s seen more than 400,000 Americans die. 

The company reported that although it insured fewer people in the United States in 2020 than in 2019, it took in $15 billion more in revenues. One of the ways it was able to pull that off? By paying far fewer claims last year than the year before. Again, this was during a pandemic. 

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Had it not been for membership gains in its Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, UnitedHealth would’ve hemorrhaged even more health plan enrollees. In fact, it covered 1.5 million fewer in individual and employer-sponsored/group plans than in 2019 but made BILLIONS more in profits. 

One reason for the drop in health plan enrollment: millions lost health insurance with their jobs during COVID-19. That isn’t a problem for Big Insurance. I hope President Biden pays close attention to how UnitedHealth and others have made huge profits since the Affordable Care Act was passed. 

Mr. President, you called it a “big f*cking deal” when President Obama signed the ACA into law. It brought insurance to 20 million of the 50 million Americans uninsured at the time and made it illegal for insurers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But … 

Insurance lobbyists rigged the bill in ways that guaranteed huge profits for years to come. Consider this: when you were sworn in as Vice President in 2009 you could’ve bought a share of UnitedHealth stock for $21.55. When you became president yesterday, that share would cost $350.84. 

No wonder Wall Street loves UnitedHealth and other big health insurers so much. UnitedHealth’s shares alone have increased 1,650% over the past 12 years. How much have American wages increased in that time? Not much. How much have their premiums increased? A lot. 

Meanwhile, tens of millions are still uninsured. Even more are “underinsured” because of absurdly high deductibles insurers charge us before they’ll pay a dime. That’s why so many of us with insurance go bankrupt or turn to GoFundMe to beg for money to pay medical bills. 

Get this: UnitedHealth now makes more than two times as much from government programs like Medicare Advantage and Medicaid, than from its “commercial” customers. Most of its revenue by far is coming from taxpayers, rather than their corporate & individual customers. 

Mr. President, to help people get the care their doctors say they need, investigate this industry and take action to put an end to this outrageous profiteering. We taxpayers are being taken to the cleaners by these companies. I know because I worked for them. Let’s talk. 

The Potter Report is co-published by To Be Fair, Inc. 501(c)3/Tarbell.org and Business Leaders for Health Care Transformation.


Wendell Potter
Chairman of the Board at To Be Fair, Inc. | + posts

To Be Fair, Inc. and Tarbell.org founder Wendell Potter is an American consumer advocate, New York Times bestselling author, consultant, and former health insurance industry executive. A critic of HMOs and of the tactics used by insurers, Potter is also an advocate for major reforms of the industry, including universal health care.