Protest in Times Square, NYC

Protest in Times Square, NYC

On Tuesday, activists in dozens of state across the US protested the unfair, profiteering, and crisis-causing practices of big private insurance companies in America. In New York, Citizen Action focused on two of our state’s worst: United Healthcare and GHI/HIP.

We held protests in New York City, Long Island, Albany, Binghamton, and Buffalo, and used the findings of two new reports released by our research affiliate, the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, to show that these corporations are the worst of the worst when it comes to customer service and protecting their profits by using ratepayer dollars to oppose reform.

Big insurance companies make profits by overcharging policyholders, raising prices for individuals, families, employees, and unions, and denying people health care.

The result:

  • more than 47 million Americans are uninsured
  • 45,000 people in America die every year because they don’t have health insurance
  • tens of thousands of families are torn apart and thrown into poverty every year due to medical bankruptcy
  • with the economic depression, Americans are losing their jobs and consequently are losing coverage

America’s health care system is broken – and every minute we delay fixing it, more lives are being ruined and lost.

Here’s some facts about United Healthcare and the way they operate:

  • Based on complaints to the State Insurance Department, United Healthcare has the third worst ranking of the state’s 46 insurance companies. These complaints surrounded issues like the company failing to provide coverage and promised benefits and failing to make payments to doctors and hospitals
  • United Healthcare gets the worst ranking on the 29 private (i.e., for-profit) New York insurers
  • In 2008, the Insurance Department upheld 559 complaints against United Healthcare (as opposed to Aetna’s 200)
  • In 2007, United Healthcare agreed to a $4 million settlement with the state Insurance Department that included a three-year improvement plan to eliminate the company’s errors in claims processing. This was the largest settlement ever entered into with a health insurer involving practices that had harmed customers
  • In 2006, after years of findings of improper business practices that remained uncorrected, the Department of Health took the rare step of banning United Healthcare’s managed care plan from enrolling most types of new customers

And they oppose reform. At least some of those people expressing opposition to health care reform this past summer at Congressional town hall meetings were insurance company employees, a portion of whom were influenced and even intimidated into taking action by their employer. Several media outlets reported that United Health Group (United Healthcare’s parent company) sent a letter to its employees on company stationary asking them to attend town hall meetings and write letters and make phone calls to Congress. The employees were given anti-reform talking points to use.

And, here’s some facts about GHI/HIP and what they do:

  • GHI HMO is the worst of the 13 HMOs in New York when it comes to customer complaints to the Insurance Department, and 46th of 46 for all categories of insurers
  • GHI’s indemnity plan is 41 of 46, and HIP HM is 42 of 46 in consumer complaints – right near the bottom
  • In 1999, the New York Attorney General found that HIP was illegally requiring prior authorization for emergency service. Prior authorization for EMERGENCY SERVICE!

GHI/HIP also opposes reform. David Abernethy, EmblemHealth’s senior VP for governmental affairs, is a member of the policy committee of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which is the major insurance industry group opposing reform. AHIP spent $7.5 million on lobbying Congress in 2008 and already spent another $2 million in the first quarter of 2009 – obviously in opposition to reform.

At the events Tuesday, we called on these companies to:

  1. Adopt a plan to radically improve poor consumer complaint records
  2. Terminate any policy or company incentive that rewards employees financially or otherwise for denying care or rejecting claims
  3. Not use any employees or company resources (our premium dollars) to defeat legislation to expand health care coverage

Our message spread. Here’s a tv piece from Binghamton and an article from Long Island.

Here’s a great video from the protest in Kingston, NY, organized by

Here’s the report on United Healthcare:

And the one on GHI/HIP: