The rapidly rising cost of health care has taken a toll on the relationships between hospitals and insurers. The suspension of the agreement between HCA and United HealthCare in Denver garnered national attention this fall as the two health care big-dogs struggled to work out their differences. Rather than harmoniously working towards a common goal of quality patient care, insurers and hospitals are going head to head over money. Insurers are trying to keep their prices down in order to win customers, which limits the amount they are willing to pay hospitals. Hospitals blame insurers for shortchanging the providers when it comes time to pay claims. Overall, it doesn’t look like a cozy relationship. With health insurance premiums rising by double-digit percentages year after year, the struggle to attract and retain clients is a mighty one for insurance carriers. And as more and more people are unable to pay their health insurance premiums, emergency rooms are increasingly becoming the health care destination for people who would otherwise visit a primary care physician. When hospitals don’t get paid for these ER visits, it forces them to charge a higher rate to the health insurance companies for treating insured patients. And the circle continues. And the real losers are the insureds and patients, who are dealing with up-in-the-air contract negotiations and providers whose network status can change in the middle of a course of treatment.
I couldn’t help but notice that the CEO of HCA, Jack Bovender, earned $8,309,928 in 2004. And the CEO of UHC, William McGuire, made $36,988,014 in 2004! (Makes Mr. Bovender seem like a pauper). Seems like they could both trim the fat a little – especially Mr. McGuire – and perhaps it would help a bit? I’m guessing if the CEOs make this much money, there must be quite a few other higher-ups in these companies who are making a killing as well. Free market economy is great, but $37 million dollars? For one year’s work? Come on now. If I were a UHC insured in Colorado, and had to deal with the HCA-UHC fiasco over the past couple months, I think that these salaries might seem a tad on the big side.