For years Progressives, led by President Obama during the legislative process for the PPACA, have attacked health insurance companies for their profits and overhead. I never understood the former -- at generally 5% of revenues or less, even wiping health insurance profits out altogether would offset less than a year's worth of health care inflation. The Progressive hatred for health insurance overhead was actually built into the PPACA, with limits on non-care expenses as a percent of premiums.
Progressive's justification for this was to compare health insurer's overhead against Medicare, which appears to have lower overhead as a percentage of revenues. This is problematic, because lots of things that private insurers have to pay for actually still are paid for by the Federal government, but just don't hit Medicare's books due to funky government accounting. Other private costs, particularly claims management, are areas that likely have a real return in fraud reduction. In this case, Medicare's decision not to invest in claims management overhead shows up as costs elsewhere, specifically in fraudulent billings.
None of these areas of costs make for particularly fertile ground for demagoguing, so the Progressive argument against health insurance overhead usually boils down to marketing. This argument makes a nice fit with progressive orthodoxy, which has always hated advertising as manipulative. But health insurance marketing expenses mainly consist of
- Funding commissions to brokers, who actually sell the product, and
- Funding people to go to company open enrollments and explain health care options to participants
Suddenly, now that Progressives have taken over health care via the PPACA and federal exchanges, their tune has changed. They seem to have a near infinite appetite for marketing money to support construction of the exchanges (which serve the role of the broker, though less well because there is no support) and information about options to potential participants. That these are exactly the kinds of expenses they have railed against for years in the private world seems to elicit no irony. Via Cato
Now we learn, from the Washington Post’s Sara Kliff, “Sebelius has, over the past three months, made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and directly asked that they contribute to non-profits that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law.”
[California] will also spend $250 million on a two-year marketing campaign [for its health insurance exchange]. By comparison California Senator Barbara Boxer spent $28 million on her 2010 statewide reelection campaign while her challenger spent another $22 million.
The most recent installment of the $910 million in federal money was a $674 million grant. The exchange's executive director noted that was less than the $706 million he had asked for. "The feds reduced the 2014 potential payment for outreach and enrollment by about $30 million," he said. "But we think we have enough resources on hand to do the biggest outreach that I have ever seen." ...
The California Exchange officials also say they need 20,000 part time enrollers to get everybody signed up––paying them $58 for each application. Having that many people out in the market creates quality control issues particularly when these people will be handling personal information like address, birth date, and social security number. California Blue Shield, by comparison has 5,000 employees serving 3.5 million members.
New York is off to a similar start. New York has received two grants totaling $340 million again just to set up an enrollment and eligibility process.
These are EXACTLY the same sorts of marketing costs progressives have railed on for years in the private world.