In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

Digging Out

Although my landlady has people who do the shoveling, they haven’t shown up yet and I had to get to my car to clean it off. So I paid a couple of kids $10 to hack a path to my car.

They were happy to get it; they said they put in a full day of shoveling yesterday (I used to do it myself when I was a kid, so I know just how exhausting it is) and then they got to the bus stop to go home, the buses had stopped running and they had to walk all the way home.

It’s that really heavy, wet snow with an icy crust. I had to break cracks in it with a broom handle before I could get it off. Then I drove through the snow drifts with my Subaru to flatten my driveway.

It worked fine … until I got stuck. And I mean, really stuck. It took three of my neighbors ten minutes or so to push me back into my driveway.

I might be trapped here for a few days.

Until Monday, when it snows again. Arghh.

UPDATE: Shoveler Guy just showed up, told me he’d clean out the driveway – “But I’m working alone today, it’ll take a while.” I assured him I’m not going anywhere.

Endorsement Deal

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

Being nice to the biggest banks will not save the midterm elections for the Democrats.  The banks’ campaign contributions will flow increasingly to the Republicans and against any Democrats (and there are precious few) who have fought for real reform.

The president’s only political chance is to take on the too big to fail banks directly and clearly.  He needs to explain where they came from (answer: the Reagan Revolution, gone wrong), how the problem became much worse during the last administration, and how – in credible detail – he will end their reign.

What we have now is not a free market.  It is rather one of the most complete (and awful) instances ever of savvy businessmen capturing a state and the minds of the people who run it.  Is this really what the president seeks to endorse?

Trafficking

Americans like to think we don’t have these problems – but we do. Prostitution isn’t always a “victimless crime”:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — About 1,000 American-born children are forced into the sex trade in Ohio every year and about 800 immigrants are sexually exploited and pushed into sweatshop-type jobs, a new report on human trafficking in the state said Wednesday.

Ohio’s weak laws on human trafficking, its growing demand for cheap labor and its proximity to the Canadian border are key contributors to the illegal activity, according to a report by the Trafficking in Persons Study Commission.

”Ohio is not only a destination place for foreign-born trafficking victims, but it’s also a recruitment place,” said Celia Williamson, an associate professor at the University of Toledo who led the research.

From 1990 to 2000, Ohio’s foreign-born population increased 30 percent, and the state has a growing pool of legal and illegal immigrants who draw victims or hide victims, Williamson said. These networks are highly organized, with brothels fronting as legitimate businesses.

Shiva The Destroyer

Google is going to roll out an ultra-high-speed broadband network. From Wired:

The announcement is not good news for the nation’s ISPs, which have long had a sour relationship with Google. Although Google interconnects with networks just as any other participant in the internet does, ISPs — including AT&T — have complained that Google properties such as Youtube should pay more to ride on their networks.

For its part, Google sees high ISP subscription fees and the U.S.’s slow connection speeds as hindrances to more profits. In the simplest equation, the more people who are online and the faster their connection, the more money Google makes from little text ads on the net. Any company who wants to make money anywhere between a user and an online ad has to fear that Google will try to drive the profits out of its business, whether that be a hardware vendor, a software company like Microsoft or an internet service provider.

Google is doing at least three things here:

1) It’s demonstrating to the public and to regulators that really fast broadband isn’t nearly as hard as companies like AT&T and Verizon pretend it is.

2) It’s sending a warning to large telecoms that they better start working to reduce prices and increase service or they might face a competitor tney don’t want to go up against, and

3) By partnering with municipalities, it’s learning/showing the nation how to bypass the current dominant telecom players by creating municipally-owned fiber infrastructure that can be rented to multiple service providers, who can then duke it out on price and service. If successful, that could create a model where Google uses its huge cash surplus to finance municipally-owned fiber optic networks, undermining its telecom rivals and speeding up the nation’s internet without ever having to run a consumer-grade network or learn how to do customer support.

If I were an executive at a large ISP, I’d be very unhappy with Google’s announcement. When Google enters a market, it usually destroys traditional ways of making money. ISPs want to find ways to measure internet traffic, and charge users by levels — even as their own upstream bandwidth costs continue to plummet. The rhetoric used to justify those decisions to consumer and lawmakers just won’t hold up if there’s an fairly priced, all-Fiber 1 Gbps connection just down the road.

Which is just the long way of saying that in a land where it costs “$35 a month to get an assymetric, slow DSL line that tops out at 1.5 Mbps, perhaps those traditional profits need to be destroyed.

Or even shorter — All hail Shiva the Destroyer.

Actual consumer choice! Can’t wait.

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