The CEO of America's largest private insurance company faced a flood of pushback from progressives Tuesday after he launched a misleading attack on Medicare for All.
UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann said during a call with investors that Medicare for All would "destabilize the nation's health system"—a common talking point that has been deployed by the right-wing media, Republicans, and establishment Democrats.
"We will end the insurance company denials of care, eliminate premiums, deductibles and co-pays, no longer allow our taxes to subsidize their profits."
"And the inherent cost burden would surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs—all without fundamentally increasing access to care," Wichmann said.
Under the Medicare for All plans introduced in both the House and Senate, every American would be guaranteed comprehensive health coverage. Two studies released over the past year—including one from a Koch-funded think tank—showed single-payer would result in trillions of dollars in savings compared to the current for-profit system.
"As usual, an insurance company CEO has got it backward—Medicare for All stabilizes healthcare for people, as Senator [Bernie] Sanders said last night on Fox News, and disrupts the failed business model of the insurance industry," Michael Lighty, founding fellow of the Sanders Institute, told Common Dreams.
"So yes, we will end the insurance company denials of care, eliminate premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, no longer allow our taxes to subsidize their profits," Lighty said. "We will 'destabilize' UnitedHealth's ability to enrich themselves at the expense of our healthcare."
The CEO of UnitedHealth made $83 million in 2017.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 16, 2019
UnitedHealth — which paid its CEO $83 million in 2017 — just dropped off of Iowa Medicaid program, destabilizing 425,000 people’s lives. And yet the same UnitedHealth is now claiming it is worried about “destabilizing” the health care system. pic.twitter.com/mtuLEeN93j
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) April 16, 2019
If by “destabilize,” he means “disrupt for-profit insulin schemes bc the discovering scientist freely gave away the patent bc he didn’t want us to price-gouge life saving medicines,” then yes.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 16, 2019
Warren Gunnels, Sanders' staff director, added that he is not concerned about the feelings of health insurance executives.
"Whether the UnitedHealth CEO likes it or not, we will no longer tolerate a system allowing him to make $83.2 million while Americans go bankrupt when they get sick," Gunnels tweeted. "The greed of UnitedHealth is killing Americans. Together, we will end it."
Wichmann's comments came as the stocks of UnitedHealth Group and other insurance giants tumbled to 52-week lows.
"Health insurers including Anthem Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp. were down sharply Tuesday morning, as were hospitals HCA Healthcare Inc. and Community Health Systems Inc.," Bloomberg reported. "Health insurance stocks have been rattled in the first few months of 2019 as Democratic presidential contenders have emerged to back variations of Medicare for All. The sell-off has sent the S&P 500 Managed Care Index to its lowest level in nearly a year."
Politico's Dan Diamond pointed out on Twitter that UnitedHealth Group has lost $30 per share since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced his Medicare for All bill in the Senate last week.
Whether causation/correlation, since Bernie Sanders unveiled his new Medicare for All bill on Wednesday morning, UnitedHealth has lost $30 per share. pic.twitter.com/FcGQIqmLYH
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) April 16, 2019
As Common Dreams reported last Friday, a whistleblower from UnitedHealthcare—a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group—provided a glimpse into the company's behind-the-scenes effort to undermine Medicare for All as it continues to gain support in Congress.
"We are advocating heavily and very involved in the conversation," UnitedHealthcare CEO Steven Nelson said in remarks leaked to the Washington Post. "Part of it is trying to be thoughtful about how we enter in the conversation, because there's a risk of seeming like it's self-serving."
The anonymous whistleblower told the Post's Jeff Stein he leaked Nelson's comments because he "felt Americans needed to know exactly who it is that's fighting against the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege."