A Healthy Dose of Reality

No one feels sorry for a retired health insurance executive and no one, but no one, invites him to dinner

Editor's Note: "Lonely at the Top" is a humorous (we hope) take on business news in the form of an advice column.

Dear Lonely at the Top,

I need advice on how to make ends meet on $5 million a year. That's what I'm going to have to live on since my abrupt retirement from the corner office at a big health insurer that I'll just call "United StealthCare." (O.K., there's the annual $5 million plus a few hundred mil more in stock options that I hung onto after a high-profile spat over something they called "backdating," but that's another story.) Anyway, bottom line: How can I possibly get by?

Mystified in Minnetonka

Dear Mystified,

Welcome to the real world, where nobody is going to feel sorry for somebody who is a) rich; b) accused of stock-options manipulation; and c) a retired health insurance executive. (It's the last one that ticks people off the most.) I feel like whacking you over the head with a bag of surgical sponges myself.

If you haven't already been clued in, you will soon discover that people rank their health insurers below Kim Jong-Il and Paris Hilton on their lists of "people I'd like to have over for dinner." Why? Because we have discovered what you already knew, which is that the business model of health insurance is to:

•Maximize premiums;

•Minimize payouts;

•Disgorge the gross margin to senior managers such as yourself in the form of gargantuan pay packages

For customers, the three golden rules of health insurance are never get sick, never have an accident, and never, ever get old. Because if you do any of these things, you can kiss your life savings good-bye.

I'm sorry, Mystified in Minnetonka. I'm afraid I haven't answered your question on how to squeak by in retirement with only a few hundred million dollars sitting around and a $5 million annual paycheck.

Let me put it this way. You belong to a paper-thin stratum of wealthy Americans who can pay medical bills out of pocket, not bother with health-insurance claims, and never feel the pain. So as much as I'd like to help you, the only thing I can say is this: Your claim has been rejected.

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