Fast Food Companies Funded By Health Insurance Investments
For all their talk about preventative care, health insurance companies may not be putting their money where their mouth is. A new study out of Harvard Medical School shows that many of the largest health insurance companies in the U.S. and Europe hold millions of dollars worth of stock in fast food restaurants.
Long demonstrated to raise consumer's chances of obesity and cardiac problems, fast food seems like something people should avoid if they want to prevent health problems. At the very least, it seems like health insurance companies are sending a mixed message when they support these companies financially while simultaneously becoming proponents of preventing disease before it starts.
In their defense, the health insurance companies claim that they invest in fast food because the industry is successful. These investments, then, are a small but important part of the portfolio that allows them to continue providing the service they offer.
The companies also argue that their fast food investments are a miniscule part of their overall portfolios. While it does mean millions of dollars in support, these companies have billions of dollars invested in all sorts of different sectors. Many of them have other companies handling their investments, so aren't picking and choosing their stocks on their own. Their investments in fast food chains, then, were chosen for their financial soundness and not with ethical considerations of any kind.
The researchers on the study refuse to let the health insurance companies off that easy, though. They argue that, in order to be ethical in this situation, the companies either need to give up their investments or, preferably, use their status as shareholders to encourage fast food companies to clean up their products.
With healthcare companies struggling to maintain a good image in this country right now, it seems like the last thing they need is a scandal surrounding how and where they make their money. Ethical or not, it seems like it will be in their best interest and the best interests of those who have coverage through them to figure out how to make this right.
There's also a potential conflict of interest here that consumers may not want to overlook. While paying out claims for members who are facing health issues caused in part by consuming fast food costs these health insurance companies money, it also makes these folks more dependent on them. In the long run, a dependent populace means more money for the health car company. Even if they are not actively creating this dependence, their funding for fast food looks suspiciously like an underhanded way of making more business for themselves.
What do you think? Should health insurance companies be able to invest in whichever industries they choose, even one that is actively not contributing to the well-being of the people who look to them for coverage and guidance? Or do they have an ethical dilemma on their hands that needs to be resolved as soon as possible?