Aetna’s had a lot to say lately about how business is good. The company disclosed last week that it made $458 million in profits this spring, and said it expected to make more money this year than executives previously thought possible. The firm also signaled it set aside three quarters of a billion dollars from policyholders to buy back shares of its own stock instead of paying more claims. But a few days before that, Aetna’s CEO got a real-world understanding of just how inadequate some of the company’s policies are.
And thanks to Twitter, the rest of us got a better understanding of how U.S. health insurers are able to profit so handsomely from the inadequate policies they sell, especially to students.
A significant part of Aetna’s revenues come from its student health plan business. The company contracts with many colleges across the country to provide coverage to students. Trouble is, those policies typically have low annual and lifetime limits — as was discovered recently by Arijit Guha, a 31-year-old graduate student at Arizona State University who’s been diagnosed with colon cancer. Guha was paying $400 a month for a policy that had a $300,000 lifetime limit. It didn’t take long for his care, including surgery and chemotherapy, to exceed that.
Facing a growing mountain of bills and the very real possibility of having to file for bankruptcy, Guha and his friends decided to set up a provocatively named website — poopstrong.org — and to use Twitter and other social media to raise money to pay the claims Aetna was denying.
Tweeting as Poop Strong, Guha soon drew the attention of a customer service representative at Aetna and, ultimately, the big guy himself, CEO Mark Bertolini.
Here’s an abridged version of how it went down:
Poop Strong: @Aetna’s 4th qtr profit up 73%: “it continued to benefit from low use of health care.” Helps they can ensure low use.