So sad that UnitedHealth Group’s executives are getting their undies bunched over Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal.

Shouldn’t the nation’s largest health insurer have seen this coming? Couldn’t it have developed its own plan for high-quality, low-cost insurance before Medicare for All started gaining traction? Like years ago, maybe?

These executives, with annual pay of $14 million, $17 million, $18 million, must have ideas in their heads they haven’t used yet. If they have a plan, shouldn’t they tell us? Maybe something bold that would provide care and reduce costs for everybody while keeping private insurers from going the way of the dodo bird and giving the company some respect it sorely needs?

Would they even have brought it up if their shares hadn’t taken a hit?

It’s commendable that the company is part of a cutting-edge national effort to invest in affordable housing as a way to keep people healthy. That’s the kind of forward thinking the health care system needs. But the $400 million invested so far is a drop in the bucket for a company whose revenue grew by $3.4 billion in the first quarter alone. And its philanthropy may not overshadow its misdeeds.

In a landmark ruling in March, a judge ruled that a subsidiary of UnitedHealth used flawed internal guidelines to deny mental health and substance abuse treatment to its insured (“Judge: Coverage guidelines ‘tainted,’ ” March 7). There’s also a lawsuit pending about the company’s alleged involvement in a scheme to overcharge Medicare by hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars. This lawsuit, filed by a whistleblower in 2011, was unsealed by a federal judge two years ago at the request of the Justice Department, which decided to intervene in it. It’s the subject of a recent New Yorker piece.

These cases are part of a disturbing trend going back to former CEO William McGuire and the employee stock options scandal that forced him to resign and pay back $468 million.

Someone in the company, no doubt, has said, “We need to get out from under all of this.” But did anyone go on to say, “We should be smart enough to make money while finding a way to serve the people who depend on us. We need to be more than the largest health care insurer in the country. We need to be the best. We have the money. We have the talent.”

CEO David Wichmann’s statement in “UnitedHealth sounds alarm on single-payer system” (April 17) seemed like scaremongering to me: “The wholesale disruption of American health care being discussed … would surely jeopardize the relationship people have with their doctors, destabilize the nation’s health system and limit the ability of clinicians to practice medicine at their best. And the inherent cost burden would surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs, all without fundamentally increasing access to care.”

Naysayers said that about Obamacare, too. None of that happened. It definitely needs fixing, but it’s working for millions of people, including many who didn’t have access to health care before. Republicans want to get rid of it only because it’s Obama’s achievement. They don’t have a plan of their own. These are the people, mind you, who gave seniors prescription drug coverage in 2003 without having a funding source. The half-billion cost went straight to the deficit.

Have a plan, UnitedHealth? Let’s see it. Be the boldest, the best. No whining.


Donna Halvorsen is a former Star Tribune reporter. She lives in Maine.