UnitedHealth CEO: ObamaCare Exchanges Must be Sustainable on their Own; Company is Open to a “Variety of Forms of Assisting to See if We Can Provide Relief or Help” to Veterans and the VA

Value of Free Markets in Health Care Stressed

Las Vegas/Washington, D.C. – Following conversations both public and private with National Center for Public Policy Research President David Ridenour at his company’s annual shareholder meeting this week, UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley expressed the strongest appreciation of the benefits of a free-market system in health care of all the health insurance CEOs quizzed so far this year by the National Center.

Mr. Hemsley was asked, first, if UnitedHealth would pledge to reject any taxpayer bailouts offered to health insurance companies under ObamaCare.

While declining to issue a blanket pledge against bailout participation, Mr. Hemsley noted that UnitedHealth has been “careful with respect to how we participate in” the ObamaCare exchanges; clarifying further that UnitedHealth “[has] not participated extensively in exchanges.” He emphasized repeatedly that the ObamaCare exchanges must be able to operate without bailouts, using phrases such as “sustainable, and sustainable on their own” and “self-supportive and sustainable.” Mr. Hemsley also noted that UnitedHealth has paid over $2 billion into ObamaCare in specific ObamaCare taxes.

Ridenour also asked Mr. Hemsley, if, in light of the continuing waiting list scandal at the Veterans Administration, if UnitedHealth was “calling for, lobbying for, or in some way working to encourage the federal government to change the way it provides health care to veterans, to give veterans access to vastly superior private health insurance plans?”

Mr. Hemsley replied, in brief, that the company is “open to a variety of forms of assisting to see if we can provide relief or help” to veterans and the VA, but the Company has not developed a “policy view” of recommendations for specific VA reforms. He nonetheless seemed to have in mind a number of ideas for improving health care services to veterans, saying, “we think a whole spectrum of approaches might apply.”

A complete transcript of the public exchange between Ridenour and Mr. Hemsley is here; an audio recording of the exchange is here.

David Hogberg, Ph.D., health care policy analyst for the National Center, commented further:

A true free-market health care system is one in which decisions about care are left to patients and health-care providers and patients controls the resources to pay for care. This is the type of health care system that would be truly beneficial for patients by driving down the costs of health care while also improving quality.

In the U.S. health care system, we rely far too much on third-party payers to pay our health care bills, be they private insurers or government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. Naturally, in such a system the third party will have a say in how the money is spent, but its interest may not coincide with that of the patient. A market-based system will minimize the interference of third-party payers.

Such a health care system would involve both tax credits and large Health Savings Accounts that individuals will control and use to pay for both health insurance and health care. It will also involve insurance designs such as reference pricing for large health care expenditures. Reference pricing gives patients a set amount for a certain procedure. If the patients gets the procedure done at a price less than or equal to the reference price, he pays nothing. If he gets it done for more than the reference price, he pays the difference.

These and many other innovations will be necessary to turn our health care system into one that is directly responsive to patients. To get there, we need policy changes that put patients back in charge of health care resources and permit providers to innovate, to find new, more effective ways to bring care to patients.

The National Center in recent weeks has quizzed the CEOs of Wellpoint, Humana, and Aetna about participation in ObamaCare bailouts. No CEO agreed to refuse a taxpayer bailout. The National Center also has attended the shareholder meetings of all the major U.S. pharmaceutical companies this year.

More information about the National Center’s health care programs is here; about our participation in shareholder meetings, here.

The National Center has participated in 42 shareholder meetings so far in 2014.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, three percent from foundations, and three percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors. Contributions are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.