This is a post from the Time wellness blog. There is a link to it below the article. Health insurance companies should not own stock in fast food restaurants. It’s a total conflict of interest.
Health insurance companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe hold nearly $1.9 billion in fast-food company stock, according to a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the department of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance. In the study, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health researchers examined major insurance companies’ stock holdings with five leading, publicly traded fast food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and others), and the Wendy’s/Arby’s Group. They found that, as of June 11, 2009, major health insurers owned $1.88 billion in fast-food stock, representing 2.2% of the companies’ total public holdings.
While some of the insurance companies have disputed the accuracy of these figures, the researchers found that U.S.-based insurance providers Prudential Financial, Massachusetts Mutual and Northwestern Mutual owned $355.5 million, $366 million and $422 million respectively in fast-food stock as of last June, with Northwestern Mutual representing the largest fast-food stock holding of any insurance company included in the study. ING, the insurance provider based in the Netherlands, held $406.1 million in these stocks. Canadian insurance provider Manulife held $146.1 million worth of fast-food stock. Those numbers, according to the study, were based on data from Yahoo! Finance from June 11 of last year.
The study authors argue that these findings show a disconcerting disregard among insurance companies for the a growing understanding of how the fast food industry is “increasingly understood to negatively impact public health.” Though they concede that fast food products can of course be consumed responsibly, the researchers emphasize that “the marketing and sale of products by fast food companies is done in a manner that undermines the public health,” and that having the very organizations that provide health insurance support these fast-food chains indicates corporate irresponsibility. As study author Dr. J. Wesley Boyd told the Wall Street Journal health blog:
“They’re profiting directly off the people who eat fast food, and if that leads to obesity or cardiovascular disease, they’ll charge you more for premiums if you have some of those conditions… They’re making money in either case.”
Health insurers should be “held to a higher standard” Boyd and colleagues argue before presenting two means of achieving that loftier standing. Insurance companies can either “divest themselves of holdings in fast food companies as well as other industries that have a clearly negative health impact,” they suggest, or they can use their ownership as leverage to force fast-food chains to adopt “practices consistent with widely accepted public healthy principles.”
The researchers concede that there are a few logical explanations for why health insurance providers might hold fast-food stock—to offset financial liability “associated with their policyholders consuming fast food,” due to a lack of understanding of the potential negative public health impact of excessive fast food consumption, or even simply due to a lack of communication between departments. Yet none of these explanations let the insurers of the hook, they argue. “If insurers are to play a greater part in the health care delivery system they ought to be held to a higher standard of corporate responsibility,” they write. “This responsibility includes aligning all o their resources—including financial investments—in ways that improve health or, at the very least, do not harm it.”
Dr. Court’s Comments
This is an obvious conflict of interest. It is also another reason health premiums are so expensive. The health insurance industry is helping fund the very industry that is making people sick! It’s outrageous.
These are the very same companies that will charge higher premiums if you gain weight or cancel your policy if you cost them too much money.
Just the other day I had a patient come in and tell me she had been dropped by her insurance company because she had “reached her lifetime cap” in terms of spending. That cap by the way was $1 million. This was and continues to be a very sick woman, but the insurance company does not care. All they know is that she is costing them too much money.
Apparently these insurance companies see nothing wrong with investing in fast food though. Why don’t they invest in tobacco companies too? There really is no difference. A lifetime of smoking is not any worse for you than a lifetime of eating fast food.
There are plenty of other ways to invest the large amounts of money that insurance companies make every year. Investing that money in fast food companies only makes your premiums higher. It’s like the local police force supplying the drug dealers with cash. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The insurance company will be the first to raise your premiums for eating at fast food chains. Of course they don’t know when you actually eat there, but they do require you to have regular physicals. If your cholesterol goes up, if your weight increases or any other health marker changes negatively, you can expect an increase in the amount of money you pay them. They’ll turn around and invest that money back into the very problem that is plaguing society.
Fast food companies will say that their food can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. I do not agree and their marketing is designed to get you to eat at their chain as often as possible. They’d like nothing more than for you to eat every meal at their restaurant. However, doing this is extremely detrimental to your health.
Obesity costs this country billions each year. The insurance companies make billions off high premiums and denying care at every turn possible. With their profits they invest irresponsibly in companies that are playing a significant roll in the high cost of health care in this country. In my opinion this should be illegal.
They have the right to invest their money, don’t get me wrong. They should be investing it in areas that improve health, not destroy it.