So no one should count on getting money from this year’s burgeoning insurance profits anytime soon.
And the financial outlook for the year is still uncertain, given the rising number of Covid-19 cases shifting from state to state and the longer term costs of caring for Covid-19 patients, with potentially expensive new vaccines or treatments around the corner. Conversely, the many people who postponed getting medical attention could flock back to doctors’ offices and submit more bills for coverage.
“They don’t actually know what’s coming around the corner,” said Dr. Sanjay Saxena, a managing director for the Boston Consulting Group. “They can’t just write checks and give away the money.”
Insurers say that they are using their financial strength to help customers as well as hospitals and doctors. “From the very beginning, health insurance providers have focused on being part of the solution,” said Matt Eyles, the chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. As examples, he cited waiving co-payments for testing and treatment for coronavirus and paying for telemedicine visits, some of which the government has mandated be covered.
The companies also say they are spending billions of dollars on efforts that range from giving small businesses a break on their monthly premiums to paying physicians in advance to help keep practices afloat.
On conference calls with Wall Street analysts, executives were quick to point out steps they have taken to assuage the worries of Americans overwhelmed by the virus outbreaks.
“We took action to commit $2.5 billion in financial assistance to ease the burden of Covid-19 among our members, employer customers, care providers and nonprofit partners,” said Gail K. Boudreaux, the chief executive of Anthem. She listed several initiatives, including giving customers a premium credit and donations to a food charity. “The needs are ongoing, and I’m proud of the way Anthem has responded quickly to provide needed support,” she said.
Nonprofit insurers, including most of the Blue Cross plans offered in individual states, are also experiencing much higher profit margins. While they too are subject to the A.C.A. rules and must pay out required rebates, they can plow any additional surplus into their capital reserves, Mr. Hall said. “They never feel that they have enough reserves, and the regulators don’t really require insurers to spend down their reserves,” he said.