Sanders: Aetna’s Obamacare threat shows what Corporate Control Looks Like

By Nika Knight, staff writer | ( | – –

Aetna threatened federal government with withdrawal from Affordable Care Act if controversial merger didn’t go through, new reporting reveals

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini bluntly told the Justice Department in July that the healthcare behemoth would drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges if its controversial merger was not approved—threatening millions of Americans’ healthcare coverage. (Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage)” title=”Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini bluntly told the Justice Department in July that the healthcare behemoth would drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges if its controversial merger was not approved—threatening millions of Americans’ healthcare coverage. (Photo: Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage)” width=”692″ height=”362″ />

Healthcare giant Aetna directly threatened the federal government by vowing to pull out of Obamacare if its proposed merger to Humana was not approved, revealed a letter by the company’s CEO sent in July and reported on Wednesday.

The letter, obtained by the Huffington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request, proves what many observers have suspected and what the company has been denying: that its decision to pull out of most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health exchanges was a bargaining chip in its effort to achieve the controversial merger.

Aetna’s threatening letter was authored by Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, who would have “personally [made] up to $131 million” if the Humana merger had gone through, as International Business Times reporter David Sirota observed last month.

The Justice Department sued to block the merger last month.

Bernie Sanders tweeted a link to the Huffington Post‘s reporting, calling the article a “must-read” and condemning the government for giving so much power to corporations like Aetna:

Indeed, the government is not without an active role in this mess: the letter from Bertolini was in response to a letter from the Department of Justice, in which the department “asked Aetna how, if at all, a decision on the proposed merger would affect Aetna’s willingness to offer insurance through the exchanges,” the Huffington Post writes.

“Bertolini responded bluntly,” the Huffington Post reports. “[…] if the Justice Department were to block the merger, Bertolini warned, Aetna could no longer sustain the losses from its exchange business, forcing it to sharply change direction.”

The online outlet quotes from Bertolini’s letter at length:

[I]f the deal were challenged and/or blocked we would need to take immediate actions to mitigate public exchange and ACA small group losses. Specifically, if the DOJ sues to enjoin the transaction, we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint …. [I]nstead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states .… [I]t is very likely that we would need to leave the public exchange business entirely and plan for additional business efficiencies should our deal ultimately be blocked. By contrast, if the deal proceeds without the diverted time and energy associated with litigation, we would explore how to devote a portion of the additional synergies … to supporting even more public exchange coverage over the next few years.

We're at the point of no return.

“Aetna may not like the Justice Department’s decision to challenge its merger, and it has every right to fight that decision in court,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote Tuesday. “But violating antitrust law is a legal question, not a political one. The health of the American people should not be used as bargaining chips to force the government to bend to one giant company’s will.”

In response to the news of Aetna’s pullout from the ACA, advocates of Medicare-for-all, such as Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, have renewed the call for universal, single-payer healthcare—which would, unlike Aetna and other healthcare corporations, put people’s health above profit:

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein

Medicare for All is the only solution that will provide all Americans the comprehensive health care they need. …
9:50 AM – 17 Aug 2016

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Healthcare Giant Threatens To Destroy Obamacare”

7 Responses

  1. The only reasonable reply, to such an attempt at extortion, would be to nationalize the health care insurance industry.

    But the Corporations already rule over all, so such a response won’t be happening.

  2. Any real government would respond with hearings on why Aetna shouldn’t be broken up as a monopoly. But we know that won’t happen.
    And Bernie Sanders, STFU. You abandoned your supporters and asked us to vote for a witch. Not buying it.

  3. One has to stand back and perhaps simply recognize that things like public utilities and basic universal healthcare provide a rudimentary and fundamentally necessary basis for overall economic development.

    Otherwise we inevitably get the predictably monopolistic behavior of the US healthcare industry. The cost/benefit results achieved by the US trail every other country in the developed world, putting us on a par, in terms of longevity, at or slightly behind Mexico. As the demographics skew increasingly toward the elderly, the drain on the US economy will only get worse.

    One of the problems is that many of those who have come to have influence in the GOP are psychologically invested in our health care system. Driven by zero-sum mindsets based on a sense of scarcity, depriving others is the only way to scratch the itch of their insecurities. See Trumpism. Another problem is Americans attitude toward mortality: better health habits along with not trying to prolong the misery of old age, once people get to that point, would reduce an incredible amount of the costs now being run up.

    That it is in Americans own enlightened self-interest to observe the examples of the rest of the developing world is a hard idea for many to get their heads around, much less when it comes to following someone else example.

  4. This is extortion where the healthcare of many citizens with pre-existing conditions are being used by aetna like human shields to assure the completely monopolistic aetna/Humana merger is not impeded by the administration. Using innocents as a human shield is a cowardly terrorist act! Mr Mark Bertolini, the chairman and chief executive of aetna, is nothing but a low punk for his extortion act worthy of ISIL leadership and not a major U.S. corporation.

  5. Mike James

    @TheYoungTurks they don’t like the losses from the blocked merger, how’d they feel if their comp crumbles from single payer?

    • More importantly, how would they FIGHT to prevent single payer? We have just begun to see in the last 8 years how many tools capitalists have to threaten our society with civil war. It works. It wears down resistance among sensible officials with liberal leanings. Don’t send the government on a fools’ errand to impose socialism until you’re personally prepared to go all the way to revolution, with the government or against it.

  6. My workplace insurance was switched to United Healthcare, which also dropped out of the ACA, and my co-pays are out of control. Twenty percent of major medical even after a $2600 out-of-pocket costs. My wife’s surgery will wipe out my savings and put me in debt for a couple of years minimum. Their supplemental policy was a complete rip-off. I know more than a few military procurement programs that would completely pay for public Healthcare after their cancellation.

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