Sunday, August 29, 2010

Can a $1 Billion Group of Babies Provide Fair Value in Health Care?

The issue of executive compensation in health care seems to be attracting more media attention.

A St Louis Post-Dispatch editorial noted how executive compensation for for-profit health insurance CEOs has grown. It started with a quote from Steven Hemsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth:
Today the American people are questioning whether or not we receive fair value for the $2.6 trillion we, as a society, are expecting to spend this year on our health care system. The vast majority, including those of us at UnitedHealth Group, believe the answer is, 'No.'

Here is a summary of the compensation information:
Modern Healthcare, a leading health industry trade journal, published its annual executive compensation survey this week. Topping the list is Stephen Hemsley, quoted above, who gave a speech to the Detroit Economic Club last year questioning the value Americans receive for all that health spending. [Note: We discussed Hemsley's compensation here.]

His take for 2009: $106 million — $7.5 million in salary and benefits and $98.5 million in stock options.

Mr. Hemsley is not alone. The CEOs at insurance giants Cigna, Humana, Aetna, Coventry Health Systems and WellPoint all took home between $10 million and about $18 million. Many of those companies already have announced double-digit premium increases for next year.

In all, the CEOs of America’s 10 largest health insurance companies made $228.1 million in salary and stock options during 2009, according to the liberal advocacy group Health Care For America Now. (That's enough to buy health insurance for at least 47,284 people, based on figured cited in this Kaiser Family Foundation survey on average premiums.)

Since 2000, those CEOs have received slightly less than $1 billion in compensation, the group said.

As an aside, the article noted how the compensation received by CEOs of the larger US health care corporations of all types, not just health insurance companies, has grown:
Researchers analyzed pay and benefits for 342 CEOs of corporations in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

They found that health care CEOs received an average compensation of $10.5 million last year. That’s 40 percent more than the average for all S&P 500 companies — 77 percent higher than chief executives at financial services companies.

Even the CEOs of not-for-profit hospital systems have become million dollar babies:
Last year, the average compensation for hospital system CEOs was $1 million. That’s enough to hire five new primary care doctors.

However, the editorial was a bit vague about why paying CEOs of health care organizations so much was a bad idea, although it did imply that it was unseemly given that much of health care is funded by government programs, and not-for-profit health care organizations receive tax breaks that give "the public an even larger stake in their efficient operation"

In my humble opinion, there are other big problems with the massive compensation that hired managers of health care organizations now command.

Paying them so much instantly vaults them into the upper class, and the CEOs of larger health care corporations now live a life style more reminiscent of aristocracy than of that of the patients who depend on them. Such riches isolate those who receive them in their own bubbles. Can one really expect a million, or ten million, or hundred million dollar CEO to really care about the health of individual patients?

Furthermore, paying them so much, usually regardless of their performance, their companies' performance, or the health effects of their products and services gives them perverse incentives to maintain their position at any cost, even at the cost of the patients they are supposed to serve.

So, we do not receive "fair value for the $2.6 trillion we, as a society, are expecting to spend on our health care system." But we cannot really expect a billion dollar group of babies to fix that.

True health care reform would decrease perverse incentives throughout the systems, spread the power in organizations more broadly, and make leaders accountable.

1 comment:

Shawna Murray M.D. said...

Let's be clear: These people are psychopaths.