UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann said the health plan has long favored universal coverage but not through certain Medicare for All proposals that would eliminate the private insurer’s role.
The top executive at the nation’s largest health insurance company made his comments Tuesday just days after presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont called out the CEO of UnitedHealth Group’s insurance business UnitedHealthcare in a Tweet.
But Wichmann said the best way to “achieve universal coverage” can be “substantially reached through existing public and private platforms.”
“Meaningful progress in health care lies in national and state leaders continuing to work collaboratively with the innovative and proven private sector solutions to achieve the goals we all want — a modern, reliable, informed and aligned health care system that offers the access, choice and coverage protections people seek at a fair cost to the individual and society as a whole,” Wichmann said on UnitedHealth’s first quarter earnings call Tuesday morning.
Sanders, who is running for the Democratic party’s nomination for President, last week Tweeted what he called a message to UnitedHealthcare and its CEO, Steve Nelson.
“When we are in the White House your greed is going to end,” Sanders Tweeted following a Washington Post story quoting UnitedHealth executives from an employee meeting.
But UnitedHealth Group CEO Wichmann described some Medicare for All proposals as something that would upend the existing system for millions of Americans. Sanders single-payer version of Medicare for All would replace the existing private healthcare system just as health insurers administer more benefits for seniors and have largely implemented Medicaid coverage expanded under the Affordable Care Act.
“The wholesale disruption of American health care being discussed in some of these proposals would surely jeopardize the relationship people have with their doctors, destabilize the nation’s health system, and limit the ability of clinicians to practice medicine at their best,” Wichmann said at the beginning of an 80-minute call to discuss UnitedHealth’s first quarter earnings. “And the inherent cost burden would surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs – all without fundamentally increasing access to care.”
UnitedHealth is a big player in Medicare Advantage, which is fast-growing private form of health insurance for seniors.
Buoyed by growth of its insurance businesses including Medicare Advantage, UnitedHealth’s first quarter revenues rose 9.3% to $60.3 billion. And earning from operations increased 19.2% to $4.8 billion, the company’s earnings report showed.
Medicare Advantage plans contract with the federal government to provide extra benefits and services to seniors, such as disease management and nurse help hotlines, with some also providing vision and dental care and wellness programs.
UnitedHealth said Tuesday its Medicare Advantage products “grew to serve 405,000 more people year-over-year, including 220,000 individual and employer-sponsored seniors in the quarter.” More than 5 million people are enrolled in UnitedHealth’s Medicare Advantage plans, the company reported Tuesday.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Trump has changed regulations to allow Medicare Advantage plans to provide broader coverage in the future, which is also expected to boost enrollment. L.E.K. Consulting has projected Medicare Advantage enrollment will rise to 38 million, or 50% market penetration by the end of 2025.
As seniors flock to Medicare Advantage, analysts say it’s going to make it difficult for Sanders and those on the presidential campaign trail to support a Medicare for All approach that would bring an end to the private insurer’s role.
“Our data shows that seniors in our Medicare Advantage plans see on average about one-half the number of doctors as similar seniors using Original Medicare,” UnitedHealthcare CEO Steve Nelson told analysts Tuesday. “This means a simpler, less confusing experience and better outcomes for patients and better use of scarce health system resources overall. It is not a coincidence that seniors are enrolling in private Medicare plans at a record pace, with one-third of the nation’s seniors served today by the private market.”
Date: April 18, 2019