The Basics of UnitedHealth Financial Performance in 2022
With revenues of $324.2 billion in 2022, UnitedHealth (UH) is the fifth largest corporation in the United States (behind Walmart, Amazon, Apple, and CVS Health). Practically all of UH business is related to tax-funded health care such as Medicare and Medicaid. As one of the largest players in the move toward Medicare and Medicaid managed care, this company has had phenomenal growth in the past two decades (as have CVS Health and Centene Corporation).
UH revenue increased by 26% between 2020 and 2022 (from $257.1 billion to $324.2 billion). The company’s 2022 balance sheet notes $23.4 billion in cash and cash equivalents – an increase of $2 billion over 2021.
Capital Resources & Uses of Liquidity: No Indication of Allocation to Employee Wages & Working Conditions, R&D, or Improved Care
The Company’s 10-K states that “Increased cash flows provided by operating activities were primarily driven by changes in working capital accounts and increased net earnings.” (page 28). Given UH’s massive revenues from government expenditures and a robust operating margin of 8.8%, taxpayers, need to be aware of how the company’s surplus capital is allocated. Like any corporation, UH has debt obligations but expects to finance those from current operations. So, accumulated capital is available for other purposes.
On page 78, the 10-K indicates that he board of directors (which includes Washington, D.C. policy maven and healthcare influencer Gail Wilensky – see below) authorized expenditures of $7 billion for common stock repurchases in addition to $5 billion in 2021 and $4.5 billion in 2020. So, the company pumped up its share price during COVID-era by repurchases of stock totaling $16.5 billion.
In addition to a 2022 stock repurchase of $7 billion, UH increased the company’s quarterly cash dividend $5.80 per share to $6.60 per share. With 950 million share outstanding, approximately $6.27 billion in cash was paid to shareholders. Over 20% of the stock is owned by three asset management firms – Vanguard (8.44%), BlackRock (7.4%) and FMR LLC (5.165) – indeed, Institutional investors/asset managers own the bulk of the equities market. Retail investors own less than 10% of the equities traded on U.S. exchanges.
Stock Buy Backs Were Illegal in the U.S. Until 1982. They Should Still be Illegal – Especially When They Are Repurchased With Earnings From Tax Funded Medical Care
Stock repurchases are a thinly veiled form of stock manipulation and insider trading. Furthermore, this form of financialization of corporate activity benefits a small number of very wealthy Americans but is damaging to the overall economy. Earnings passed through to shareholders without retaining cash for employees, R&D, and long term investment puts downward pressure on economic growth and wages and fuels maldistribution of wealth, which has reached crisis proportions in the U.S.
Taxpayers have a right to fairness and equity in the use of capital earned through tax funded healthcare. They must demand that stock repurchases stop. Furthermore, the people of the U.S. have a right to a fair allocation of excess cash earned through healthcare for which they are taxed.
Board Members & Executives Should Be Held Accountable: It’s Not Their Money
Until the early 1980s, executives were compensated mostly in the form of salaries. As executive and board compensation has evolved, salary is now a small part of corporate compensation. Most executives and board members receive pay in the form of stock options and incentive stock awards. Philosophically, executives merit compensation if they enhance shareholder value and corporate financial success. As this philosophy has taken hold in the U.S. over the past 40 years, these rewards have become disconnected from productivity.
The boards and executives of healthcare corporations are focused on earnings and cash flow in the short term – not on reinvestment of excess earnings in long term improvement in the health of the U.S. population. As a matter of fact, life expectancy has been declining in the U.S. Although most states have contracted with these mammoth corporations to improve the cost and output of Medicaid systems, there is no substantial evidence that is happening. Furthermore, Medicaid, the poor peoples’ medicine they are charged with improving, is still stigmatizing and dehumanizing.
Each year, recipients are forced to run an administrative gauntlet of humiliating and frustrating reapplication that is much different than anything higher SES Americans experience in application for entitled health care. It appears that heart disease, poor prenatal care, diabetes, drug addiction, and other major chronic and acute diseases have not been reduced by Medicaid managed care. Nor is there evidence that a massive shift of U.S. healthcare dollars to corporations will lower the outrageous per capita cost of healthcare.
Despite failure to improve the overall healthcare of Americans, corporate boards continue to reward executives with lavish salaries and shareholders with high dividends. They justify that on financial grounds – not on success in improving overall health of the people.
Concentrated Wealth Leads Inevitably to Concentrated Power: Connecting Dots Inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway
Corporations are vying in the Washington, D.C. maze of politics, lobbying, and corruption to capture as much of the trillions in Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and other forms of government healthcare expenditures. They can pay for the influence they need in chasing ever increasing expenditures for healthcare.
I noticed that one Gail Wilensky, PhD is a UH board member. This caught my attention because Dr. Wilensky is a very influential policy maven about town in Washington. She has a very thick resume consisting of scholarly publications, served as a chair of MedPAC, held other high level government positions, and is generally a highly respected healthcare influencer. However, she receives about a half million in compensation per year as a UH board member and has accumulated over 51,000 shares of UH stock, which closed at $481.90 today (3/27/2023). Hence, the stock that she hasn’t sold and is still holding is worth about $24.6 million.
Dr. Wilensky also serves on the board of Quest Diagnostics and a smaller healthcare corporation (ViewRay). The following is her biography appearing on the Quest Diagnostics website:
“Dr. Wilensky, is a Senior Fellow at Project HOPE, an international non-profit health foundation, which she joined in 1993. From 2008 through 2009, Dr. Wilensky served as President of the Defense Health Board, an advisory board in the Department of Defense. From 1997 to 2001, she was the chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. From 1995 to 1997, she chaired the Physician Payment Review Commission. In 1992 and 1993, Dr. Wilensky served as a deputy assistant to the President of the United States for policy development relating to health and welfare issues. From 1990 to 1992, she was the administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration where she directed the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Dr. Wilensky is a director of UnitedHealthcare Group and ViewRay, Inc. She served as a director of Manor Care Inc. from 1998 until 2009, Gentiva Health Services, Inc. from 2000 until 2009, Cephalon Inc. from 2002 to 2011 and SRA International, Inc. from 2005 to 2011. Dr. Wilensky also served as a Commissioner of the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health and as the Non-Department Co-Chair of the Defense Department’s Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care. She has been a director of Quest Diagnostics since January 1997. Dr. Wilensky has extensive experience, including in strategic planning, as a senior advisor to the U.S. government and private enterprises regarding healthcare issues and the operation of the U.S. healthcare system.”
Dr. Wilensky is merely one example, one individual among the ethically challenged thousands, caught up in the government-to-corporation-to government loop. Going from Senate staffer to the Senate Finance committee and on to K Street and a lobbying job for Big Pharma, United Health, or some other powerful Wall Street entity has become normalized. The American people are paying the price for the consequent maldistribution of power and wealth in taxes and poor health. The poor pay more.