In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau delivered the troubling but hardly shocking news that almost 51 million Americans -- nearly one out of every six of us -- had fallen into the ranks of the uninsured. If you think that news would also be troubling for health insurance companies, think again. While the country was struggling to emerge from a recession, and more and more of us were struggling with no medical coverage, the big for-profit insurance companies were rolling in dough.
Over the past few weeks, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, CIGNA and Humana reported fourth quarter 2010 earnings, and all but Humana exceeded Wall Street's profit expectations, most by wide margins. The combined earnings of just those five companies were more than $11.7 billion last year, which was 17 percent more than they made in 2009. Since the end of 2008, their earnings have increased a Wall Street-pleasing 51 percent. Just imagine how much more they would have been able to reward their shareholders if the economy had been running on all cylinders.In fact, 2010 will go down in the history books as one of the most profitable ever for the five biggest for-profit health insurers.