The For-Profit Takeover of Medicare Is a Huge Scam

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook & Andrew Perez
May 26, 2023

The health insurance behemoth Humana enjoyed a banner 2022. The Louisville, Kentucky–based insurer made $2.8 billion in profits last year, while paying out $448 million in dividends to shareholders and more than $17 million in compensation to its CEO.
The main driver of those earnings? The federal government spent $20.5 billion overpaying Humana and other private insurers for the Medicare Advantage plans they manage on behalf of seniors and people with disabilities. If not for those overpayments, Humana could have suffered a nearly $900 million loss in 2022, according to a Lever analysis.
Humana is the most prominent example of how insurers have built a major cash cow out of systematically overbilling Medicare Advantage, the private Medicare program operated by private interests. These overpayments are symptomatic of a broader profit-driven policy agenda that seeks to completely privatize Medicare, one of the nation’s most popular social programs, and lock program recipients into subpar private insurance plans, even when they get sicker and need the best care possible.
Medicare Advantage plans have higher claim denial rates and more prior authorization restrictions than traditional Medicare plans. Last year, regulators found that nearly one in five payment requests rejected by Medicare Advantage plans in 2018 were wrongfully denied, representing an estimated 1.5 million claims.
And while Biden administration proposals could have helped slow the for-profit takeover by tightening the screws on Medicare Advantage overpayments, insurers recently led a fierce lobbying campaign to dissuade the government from fully cracking down on the practice.