Centene Corp. CEO Michael Neidorff easily beat his nearest competitors to win the top slot in the annual CEO compensation rankings for publicly traded health insurers, clearing $22 million in 2016. Neidorff, who’s headed the rankings since 2014, saw his compensation rise 5.8% in 2016 (see table).

Humana Inc. President and CEO Bruce Broussard took the second place on the list with total compensation of $19.7 million — nearly double his 2015 compensation of $10.3 million, and at 91.3% the biggest percentage gain for health insurer CEOs in 2016. Aetna Inc. CEO Mark Bertolini came in third, with total compensation of $18.7 million, an 8.1% increase over 2015.

The 2016 health insurer CEO compensation numbers reflect “a stronger, stable market where everyone wants to be average or above,” says Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. Elson tells AIS Health that increasing compensation for one CEO tends to “ratchet up” pay for everyone.

Paul Dorf, managing director of Compensation Resources Inc., a consulting firm in Upper Saddle River, N.J., agrees. “There have been some very large increases. Insurers are more profitable, and as water rises, it raises all boats. Most of these companies have done fairly well,” he tells AIS Health.

Compensation Is ‘More at Risk’

Still, Dorf says, “compensation is increasing, but it’s more at risk” since more is in the form of stock options.

Centene cited several reasons for Neidorff’s compensation, which it said was higher than average for health care companies but average or slightly above average for corporations of a similar size, regardless of industry. In 2016, Neidorff integrated Health Net, Inc. after Centene acquired the company (HPW 3/28/16, p. 7), drove annual revenue up 78% to $40.6 billion, and increased earnings per share 41% over 2015, the company said.

At Humana, compensation for Broussard and other executives was affected by what the company called “extremely challenging conditions” involving its proposed takeover by Aetna Inc., blocked by a federal judge in January (HPW 1/30/17, p. 1). The two companies decided to abandon the merger in February (HPW 2/20/17, p. 1).

Broussard’s base salary grew only 3% in 2016 — from $1.2 million to $1.235 million, but the rest of his compensation rose substantially, in large part because the Humana board made an adjustment in 2016 for compensation that was granted in 2014 but where the vesting was affected by accounting issues involving the merger. His stock awards jumped from $4.37 million in 2015 to $11.89 million in 2016. He also received $4.37 million in option awards last year and $1.97 million in non-equity incentive plan compensation.

Universal American Corp. CEO Richard Barasch saw the second-highest increase in compensation out of the top 10 insurers: his overall pay rose from $2.8 million in 2015 to $4.0 million in 2016. WellCare Health Plans, Inc. finalized Universal American’s purchase on April 28.

And UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley’s total compensation rose 22.8%, from $14.5 million in 2015 to $17.8 million in 2016. Hemsley had taken a pass on additional compensation in 2015, asking his board to keep his compensation below the median for CEOs in the company’s peer group. However, Hemsley owns UnitedHealth Group stock worth more than $551 million.

Hemsley’s 2016 compensation increase stems largely from a conversion of his retirement plan from a cash payout to an equity payout. “This is probably a favorable thing from shareholders’ perspective (increasing pay-for-performance),” says Wayne Guay, accounting professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Overall, Guay tells AIS Health, “changes in health plan CEO compensation over the last few years have largely mirrored the changes for other industries: equity pay favored over cash pay, use of stock shares favored over options [and] increasing use of performance vesting and performance payouts of equity instead of simple time-based vesting.”

Two CEOs saw their compensation drop in 2015:

  • Molina Healthcare, Inc. head J. Mario Molina, M.D., who was replaced as CEO on May 2. Molina’s total compensation fell slightly, from $10.3 million to $10 million.

  • Cigna Corp. CEO David Cordani, whose total compensation fell more than 11%, from $17.3 million to $15.3 million. The board-level compensation committee said the insurer failed to meet its financial goals.

CEO pay could be affected in 2017 by a repeal of the provision that limits companies to $500,000 in deductions for pay per executive, Dorf points out. A provision eliminating this requirement is included in the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed May 4 by the House, but the overall bill’s prospects are uncertain. Congress could include the provision in a tax reform or tax cut bill later this year, Dorf says.

Still, Guay says this might not have much effect: “Health insurers can’t really afford to allow the tax restrictions on executive pay to heavily influence their compensation decisions because their executives have many outside employment opportunities in industries that are not affected by such regulations.”

Total Compensation for Publicly Traded Health Insurer CEOs in 2016



Total Annual Compensation

Full Year Increase or (Decrease)



Centene Corp.

Michael Neidorff

$22.0 million

$20.8 million


Humana, Inc.

Bruce Broussard

$19.7 million

$10.3 million


Aetna Inc.

Mark Bertolini

$18.7 million

$17.3 million


UnitedHealth Group

Stephen Hemsley

$17.8 million

$14.5 million


Anthem, Inc.

Joseph Swedish

$16.5 million

$13.6 million


Cigna Corp.

David Cordani

$15.3 million

$17.3 million


Molina Healthcare, Inc.

J. Mario Molina, M.D.

$10.0 million

$10.3 million


WellCare Health Plans, Inc.

Ken Burdick

$9.3 million

$7.8 million


Universal American Corp.

Richard Barasch

$4.0 million

$2.8 million


Triple-S Management Corp.

Roberto Garcia-Rodriguez

$2.9 million



* Roberto Garcia-Rodriguez was appointed CEO of Triple-S on Jan. 1, 2016.

SOURCE AND METHODOLOGY: Compiled by AIS Health from company financial statements. Total compensation includes base salary, bonuses, stock awards, options/stock appreciation right (SAR) awards, non-equity incentive plan compensation, non-qualified deferred compensation earnings and all other compensation.