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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Broken Record on Record-Breaking Profits

Last week we posted an item on President Obama’s recent claim that health insurance companies were logging record profits. Not true, we discovered, at least not for the largest publicly traded companies. Some of them weren’t even close.

Expect to keep hearing the assertion, however, in a series of seven cookie-cutter radio ads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is airing around the country this month, targeting Republican House members. Here’s one of them:

In each ad, the narrator says that the targeted lawmaker has received many thousands of dollars in campaign contributions "from the insurance industry." What do the insurance companies get, the narrator asks? "Record profits."

We asked the DCCC for back-up on the "record profits" claim. A spokesman sent us citations of several articles, none of which prove the claim. One notes that UnitedHealth Group moved up in the Fortune 500 rankings of corporations, but even that article says the company reaped lower profits in 2008 than in 2007. It’s true that UnitedHealth’s numbers for the second quarter of 2009 beat analysts’ expectations, as we noted last week, but the company posted higher profits in, say, the first quarter of 2008.