By Ethan Rome - Executive Director, Health Care for America Now
America's families and small businesses are barely hanging on while the Wall Street-run health insurance profit machines have been jacking up rates and providing less care. That's why it makes sense for Occupy Wall Street protesters to occupy them as well.
In an excellent post on Monday, former health insurance industry insider Wendell Potter suggested that protesters target the Washington, D.C., offices of the insurance industry's lobbying arm. He's right. People should also demonstrate at the corporate offices of the biggest Wall Street-run companies: Aetna and Cigna in Hartford, Conn., WellPoint in Indianapolis, Humana in Louisville and UnitedHealth in Minneapolis.
Much has been said about the banks and credit card companies that are headquartered on Wall Street. The health insurance companies' relentless pursuit of profit and callous disregard for people offers another window into how big corporations have abused people and twisted the economy to serve their own interests.
Health insurance companies make excessive profits, hoard massive amounts of cash, overcharge their customers and give their top executives obscene paychecks.
While we've been dealing with the crushing impact of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the top five health insurance companies have been celebrating boom years thanks to record profits that are expected to total $14 billion in 2011, an astonishing 80% increase since 2008. They did it by raising rates 131% since 1999.
After the insurers gouge us and line their CEOs' pockets, they hoard billions of dollars. As of Dec. 31, 2010, the nation's for-profit and nonprofit health insurance companies were holding $97.3 billion to cover unexpected medical claims - six times more than state regulators require, according to Citigroup Global Markets.
Not surprisingly, insurance company CEOs and executives have been compensated at obscene levels for producing such enormous profits for Wall Street. The chief executives of America's 10 largest health insurance companies were paid $228 million in 2009, up from $33 million in 2000. In that 10-year period, health insurance CEOs received nearly $1 billion in total compensation, and that doesn't even count hundreds of millions more in unreported exercises of stock options during that period. We've got 9% unemployment, falling wages and a declining standard of living, and these guys are taking raises that stagger the imagination.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are uninsured, and millions more have inadequate coverage. The Affordable Care Act is changing things for the better, but full implementation can't come soon enough. That's why so many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters say health care is a major issue for them. Many don't have insurance, and they're worried they never will. And while Wall Street and the big corporations are wreaking havoc on the country, Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to make things worse by trying to repeal consumer-friendly reforms like the health care law and bank regulation and trying to eliminate middle-class programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
At the core of the hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protests across the country is anger over the simple fact that the wealthiest 1% and the corporations they own are getting even richer while the rest of us - the 99% who built this country and make it work - are getting poorer. Our perverse economy has produced such extreme income inequality that it is destroying the very essence of America.
The right-wing Republican extremists who work for the 1% like the Koch Brothers think it's the protesters who are destroying America. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor calls the protestors "growing mobs." GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who is not burdened by Cantor's restraint, calls the Wall Street demonstrators "un-American."
Some in the media complain that they can't figure out what the protesters want. It seems pretty obvious to me. They want jobs and health care and homes. They want an end to unbridled corporate greed. They want the opportunity to realize their full potential in the greatest country on earth. And they want their political leaders to stand up for them, not the 1%. That's why they started this movement on Wall Street, the financial capital of the world, and that's why the politicians should support the protesters instead of calling them names.
Here are two things you can do to support the movement against corporate greed:
- To find an Occupy event near you, go to the website Occupy Together.
- Join The Other 98 Percent and Health Care for America Now in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4 to protest a fancy gala dinner being held by a Koch Brothers front group. The "American Dream Guerrilla Drive-In" counter-event starts at 8 p.m.