Friday, August 28, 2009


From Kevin Sack's heart-tugging New York Times article about the real victims of the health care debate, those poor, beleaguered employees of huge billion-dollar insurance companies:

"I believe we're getting the pushback because we are standing up for what we believe in," said Cheryl Tidwell, 45, Humana's director of commercial sales training. "We believe there's a better way to control costs by controlling utilization and getting people involved in their health care."

"Controlling utilization." You know -- it's sort of like rationing. The difference is, it's privatized, so it doesn't make Glenn Beck watchers want to shoot anyone.


You may have though the president of the United States and his evil band of granny-killers were the most hated people in this debate, but Sack assures us that the most hated people are the midlevel employees of Humana, a huge insurance company that eagerly welcomed him into corporate headquarters out of a deep commitment to journalism, and not to try to gain a propaganda advantage, no sirree. Yes, these midlevel employees are the enemy, and it hurts, dammit!

They do not save lives. They just pay the bills.

(Or, perhaps, don't.)

When they have reason to interact with patients, it is usually because something has gone wrong.

(No one's done anything wrong, like improperly denied a claim. Something just happened. It was an act of God.)

"You're not having a good day when you’re talking to us, unfortunately," Mr. Shireman [Max Shireman, a Humana project manager] said.

That may make it easy to demonize insurance companies....

You know what? If I'm talking to a firefighter, I'm probably also not having a good day. But I don't hate firefighters, because if I'm talking to one, I assume he didn't burn down my house.

"Our industry gets blame for virtually everything that goes on in health care that people don't like," said Humana's president, Michael B. McCallister, over a cup of coffee in the corporate cafeteria. "I commonly get letters from people that say, 'Your doctor did this with me or to me,' so I don’t think people understand the system really well." ...

We understand the system quite well. You compel us to go to in-network doctors, presumably because they've agreed to your cost-containment rules (even though out-of-network doctors, who may include doctors we like, have probably agreed to the same cost rules for other insurance companies, just not for yours). So we complain to you when your doctors mess up.

A number of employees said they accepted the Washington rhetoric as a political device, and tried to let it roll off their backs. There seems to be no appreciation, they said, of the financial risk that insurance companies bear....

Yeah, right: it's just so risky to run a multi-billion-dollar corporation in America. If such a corporation were at risk of failure, we probably wouldn't lift a finger to help.

Humana has 28,000 employees, including 10,000 in Louisville, many of whom work in a monumental headquarters tower constructed of pink granite. It is the second-largest employer here....

A number of employees said they were concerned about their jobs, particularly given the emphasis in Washington on reducing the administrative costs of health insurance.

"I am an administrative cost," Mr. [Andrew] Osterman [a Humana technology manager] said. "The reason a public option would be able to get away with those low costs is if they took people like me out of the picture."

Right -- because a public plan won't need any technology managers. Magic pixies will do all the work technology managers do at private companies, and they'll do it for free.

See, we have to preserve the job of every last of Humana's 28,000 employees no matter what. We absolutely can't allow Humana to be subject to competition. You know how communist countries have always kept inefficient factories operating? That's what we have to do for Humana. It's exactly the same principle -- except we're not filthy commies, so it's perfectly OK for us to do it.

(Also see Yves Smith's take at Naked Capitalism.)

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