Saturday, August 22, 2009


Angela Brawley, CEO of insurance giant WellPoint, didn’t do herself any favors with her Morning Edition interview Friday. Her defense of the poor, beleaguered insurance companies who couldn’t possibly survive against the big, bad public option fell apart under Steve Inskeep’s rather mild questioning. Inskeep did a good job countering Brawley’s talking points-laden delivery but this was hardly a tough grilling.

For example:
Steve Inskeep: Although isn’t there some fairness to the Administration’s contention that your concern is not necessarily cost-shifting so much as you just don’t want the extra competition?

Angela Brawley: You know, there is competition in the health insurance market, there are over 1,300 health insurance companies competing and--

SI: Whoa, whoa, whoa. They don’t all compete in the same place for the same customers. Aren’t there huge swaths of America where there’s only a handful of companies to choose from?

AB: We think there’s pretty broad competition, particularly among the major national insurance companies. So you know really what’s interesting about this debate is that it’s shifted to this question about insurance companies when where we started out in the discussion was about healthcare reform.

Ooh nice way to change the subject! Brawley happened to hit upon a pet peeve of mine, which I’ve written about a-plenty: It is indeed frustrating that the issue has been framed as an insurance issue, not a healthcare issue. My concern is that we all know way too many people who have health insurance and pay through the nose for it, yet they can’t afford healthcare because of the insurance company bureaucrat standing between them and their doctor.

Inskeep didn’t ask about that.

I caught the interview while stuck in the car this morning and frankly I nearly drove into a ditch. I’m not all that familiar with WellPoint, I don’t even know if the company operates here in Tennessee since most of their business seems to be operating BlueCross/BlueShield licenses (Great! That’s two insurance companies skimming profits off your doctor’s visit!). Indeed, the discussion about insurance company profits was especially frustrating:

Brawley: Our profit is in the 3-4% range, I think this year around 4%? When you look, though, across healthcare there are profit margins in a number of sectors around healthcare that are 3, 4, 5 times ours. If you look at biotech margins, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, they’re 3-4-5-6 times the margin of the health insurance industry. And the irony of that is, it is our job to get to the efficiency of healthcare.

Yes, ironic, isn’t it? You know, there are millions of people around the world who have healthcare without the benefit of an insurance company. However, it’s awfully hard to get quality healthcare without pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and the like. Now, I’m not defending obscene profit margins by any means, and frankly I think Ms. Brawley pulled these figures out of her ass, but I'm just making the distinction here: insurance companies are vampires on the healthcare system which serve no earthly purpose that I can fathom, as Brawley herself seemed to admit.

Inskeep, in fact, made that point, which is that if “efficiency” is the insurance companies’ job, and yet costs have doubled in the past five years,

somebody might suggest you’re not doing a very good job.

Some might say that, yes.

And speaking of profits, perhaps coincidentally I recently stumbled upon this information about Ms. Brawley.

I think Ms. Brawley, who earned $9.84 million in 2008--an $800,000 increase over 2007--and whose compensation includes use of a private jet, doth protest too much.

The interview ended with Brawley calling for the whaaambulance because, she claims, the insurance companies came to the table early and offered “good solutions,” “real reforms,” “sustainable reforms,” and this is all the thanks they get! Let me offer a hearty “bullshit!” All you’ve done is call for Congress to end abusive insurance company policies that are entirely within your own power to stop anytime you wish. Meanwhile you’ve spent millions lobbying Congress and organizing astroturf, even sending phony letters to the editors of small-town newspapers.

I wonder, as Angela Brawley hopscotches around the country on her private jets, does she seriously think anyone buys this BS?