Like it or not, four years later Humana takes next step towards CEO's "Medicare Advantage for All" gamble (updated)

Updated 8/17/23: D'oh! I completely forgot about this development when I started running my state-by-state rate filing analyses this summer. No wonder Humana has disappeared from over a dozen states for 2024!

Update 3/15/23: At the request of Humana's Sales Integrity Dept., I've removed their logo from this blog entry.

Before I start, let me say that I've never been a fan of Medicare Advantage, at least as its currently structured, for a number of reasons. I am not advocating for the Medicare Advantage system--again, as currently structured--to be expanded.

Having said that, the trend has been inevitable: Medicare Advantage has steadily increased its share of total Medicare enrollment for years, from 19% in 2007 to 48% in 2022 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (the official October 2022 CMS Medicare enrollment report puts it a bit lower, at 46.3%). Either way, the point is that MA is on track to overtake traditional, "fee for service" Medicare within the next few years and become the default choice for new enrollees.

Back in 2019, I took note of an article posted at the National Center for Public Policy Research (a free-market, conservative think tank):


Given an opportunity today to walk back prior support for “Medicare-for-All,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard refused, effectively making himself an industry outlier. Asked about his responsibility both to shareholders and to those receiving care through Humana, which would be abdicated during a government takeover of health care, Broussard told a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project(FEP) that he considered “Medicare-for-All” a “relative description” and would not comment on legislation widely championed by the left.

...Humana serves approximately 23 million people through its medical and specialty services.

At the Barclay’s Global Healthcare Conference last month, Broussard was quoted calling the “Medicare-for-All” idea a “great opportunity for the industry to be able to expand the population that it’s coordinating care with.”

...Broussard’s refusal to engage on “Medicare-for-All” is in sharp contrast with other health care leaders. Earlier this week, United Health Group CEO David Wichmann said “Medicare-for-All” would “destabilize the nation’s health care system” and “surely jeopardize” relationships with patients. Seema Verma, the federal administrator of Medicare, called it the “biggest threat to the American health care system.”

As I noted at the time:

Obviously the Humana article has to be taken with a big grain of salt given the source, but this really cuts to one of the most important philosophical and political issues which will have to be dealt with as the battle for universal healthcare coverage kicks into even higher gear: Just how much of a role, if any, should the private insurance industry continue to have...and how many adversaries are healthcare reform advocates willing to go to war with simultaneously?

...Under a Bernie Sanders-style "pure" universal single payer system, the entire private insurance industry would be virtually wiped out (or at least reduced to perhaps 6% of their current size, anyway) while also severely slashing payments to hospitals, doctors, clinics and drug it's no wonder that they've already banded together into a massive new coalition called the "Partnership for America's Health Care Future", which includes AHIP, BCBSA, the AMA, the AHA and other major healthcare industry players.

...With this in mind, Broussard's comments (along with [then Aetna CEO Mark] Bertolini's statement two years ago, although he's since retired) take on an interesting tone. What it boils down to is this: Health insurance companies don't really care who pays the bills as long as they get their cut. Both men seem to be suggesting that they'd be satisfied with a "Medicare for All"-like system as long as it was managed Medicare...basically "Medicare Advantage for All".

Cut to yesterday:

Humana to Exit Employer Group Commercial Medical Products Business

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) today announced that it will be exiting the Employer Group Commercial Medical Products business, which includes all fully insured, self-funded and Federal Employee Health Benefit medical plans, as well as associated wellness and rewards programs. No other Humana health plan offerings are materially affected. The company remains committed to the long-term growth of its core Insurance lines of business, including Medicare Advantage, Group Medicare, Medicare Supplement, Medicare Prescription Drug Plans, Medicaid, Military and Specialty (Dental, Vision, Life, etc.), as well as its CenterWell healthcare services business.

Following a strategic review, the company determined that the Employer Group Commercial Medical Products business was no longer positioned to sustainably meet the needs of commercial members over the long term or support the company’s long-term strategic plans. The exit from this line of business will be phased over the next 18 to 24 months. The company is committed to ensuring a smooth transition of services for members and commercial customers.

“This decision enables Humana to focus resources on our greatest opportunities for growth and where we can deliver industry leading value for our members and customers,” said Bruce D. Broussard, Humana’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It is in line with the company’s strategy to focus our health plan offerings primarily on Government-funded programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Military) and Specialty businesses, while advancing our leadership position in integrated value-based care and expanding our CenterWell healthcare services capabilities. We are confident in Humana’s continued success, and our commitment to improving the health of those we serve is unwavering.”

Yep, Broussard is still CEO of Humana...and it appears that his viewpoint from 2019 has not only remained steadfast throughout the COVID pandemic years, he's actually grown more confident in it.

As Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a Twitter thread yesterday:

Humana, a for-profit private insurance company, has announced that its entire business model will now be serving "public" programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

...Gross margins in Medicare Advantage plans are substantial. It’s a profitable line of business for insurance companies.

...With employer-based health insurance stagnant, Medicare and Medicaid have been the biggest sources of profit growth for insurers. Medicare Advantage, in particular, is quite attractive with evidence of government over-payments.

The press release doesn't specify what Humana's plans are for the individual (nongroup) insurance market...which basically means ACA exchange plans...but my guess is that they'll stick around there since a) the individual market is growing under the enhanced ACA subsidies of the ARP/IRA, and b) those very subsidies mean that ACA exchange plans are effectively "public programs" as well, at least in this context.

UPDATE: D'oh!! Louise Norris reminds me that Humana had actually already pulled out of the entire Individual Market way back in 2017 fact, I even wrote about it at the time! For some reason I thought they had jumped back in more recently, however. Guess not.