UnitedHealth is getting even richer on Obamacare

How dare those kids suffering from mental illness need treatment. Such costs cut into United CEO Stephen Hemsley's cufflinks budget.

How dare those kids suffering from mental illness need treatment. Such costs cut into United CEO Stephen Hemsley's cufflinks budget.

Earlier this week, City Pages ran the cover story The Broken Girl and a Mother's War with UnitedHealth, which chronicled allegations that the Minnesota insurance giant routinely denies mental health patients the coverage they paid for.   

"Look at the money being made," said state Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville). "You don't make those kinds of numbers without denying people the help they need." 


Judging by the company's financial statement, United is also hauling in big money through Obamacare.

Though conservatives denounced the health care law as nothing short of an attack on the free-market system, United has managed to till enormous profits. Annual proxy statements from the Minnetonka company show profits over the last five years approaching $27 billion. The past 12 months have been exceedingly flush at $6.11 billion in the black.

But such windfalls don't come by accident. Insurers were allowed a key role in negotiating the rules of Obamacare. For United, that's meant keeping both sides of the political machine lubricated to ensure no one forgets its interests.  

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C. that focuses on money and government influence, the carrier ranked 55th among America’s most politically active corporations between 2007 and 2012. UnitedHealth shelled out nearly $27 million to politicians, political parties, action committees, and lobbyists.

The carrier was most generous to President Barack Obama, giving him almost $300,000 by the second half of 2014. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney cashed checks of more than $100,000. Former Minnesota Republican senator-turned-political operative Norm Coleman pulled in $84,000. Current Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar rounded out the top ten with contributions pushing $60,000.

In 2014 alone, United's political action committee slathered money on a list of people that runs 13 pages long. 

It's the kind of generosity that gives you a lot of sway. 

Insurers "have a lot of clout to have laws written in their favor and have administrative decisions made that go easy on them," says Marty. "That's the problem."

Obamacare's marrow was written by Liz Fowler, chief health counsel to Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), one of the biggest recipients of cash from the health care sector.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., lobbyists for United gave more than $30,000 to Baucus between 2007 and June 2009, just as Fowler was writing the law.

That 30k was a wee part of the $380 million the industry spent on lobbying before the new health care law took effect.

As the New York Times noted, insurers are the “most direct beneficiaries of the law.”

And United has benefited from all sides of Obamacare. 

When the website stumbled out of the gate, United’s subsidiary Optum was hired to help fix the problems.

Obamacare also gave the insurer greater access to customers. It added 4.5 million people to its roster of paying customers in 2013. Government programs, likewise, boosted the company's bottom line as it added 425,000 people to its Medicare Advantage rolls. Its Medicaid business added 205,000 customers that same year.

Last year proved even more lucrative as UnitedHealth's revenues from "people served through state sponsored benefit programs" grew by $5.3 billion. 

UnitedHealth is the poster child for the nation's broken health care system, according to Marty. 

"[Obamacare] gave insurance companies even more clout when they already had a lot of clout," he says.