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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The CEOs of 178 health care companies collectively made $3.2 billion during the coronavirus pandemic, which was 31% more than 2019, according to an Axios analysis of financial filings.

The big picture: Health care executives took home more than ever because a vast majority of their pay still comes in the form of stock. So while the coronavirus ravaged people's lives, the health care system and the broader economy, the soaring stock market immunized executives' pay.

By the numbers: The median pay of a health care CEO in 2020 was more than $9 million, up from 2018 and 2019. Thirty CEOs made more than $30 million each.

  • The figures were calculated by using actual realized gains of stock options and awards, which are in the annual proxy disclosures companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The highest-paid health care CEO in 2020 was Joe Kiani of Masimo, a large medical device company best known for its products that measure oxygen saturation and other vitals. Kiani earned more than $210 million last year — the highest amount of any health care CEO in the past three years we've studied, and an amount equal to 88% of Masimo's net profit in 2020.

  • The company did not make Kiani available for an interview. A Masimo spokesperson said, "The stock options Mr. Kiani exercised in 2020 were granted between 2011 and 2014, when Masimo's stock price was in the range of $20 to $30 per share. Mr. Kiani held the options for years after they had already vested, while the value of the company increased by an order of magnitude."
  • Masimo's sales increased by 22% last year, to $1.1 billion, and the stock price jumped almost 70%. More hospitals bought the company's patient monitoring devices to treat the influx of COVID-19 patients. Kiani said in May the pandemic brought "unprecedented demand for our products."

Drill down further: Two other executives surpassed the $100 million pay mark last year: Leonard Schleifer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which made a COVID-19 treatment, and Paul Kusserow of Amedisys, a home health and hospice company.

  • The CEOs of the six health insurance conglomerates (Anthem, Centene, Cigna, CVS Health, Humana and UnitedHealth Group) made a combined $236 million in 2020, 45% more than in 2019.
  • Due to the pandemic, many executives deferred or received lower bonuses, which are mostly based on financial metrics like revenue and adjusted profitability. But that didn't halt the growth of all cash incentives. The pandemic-year bonus for Marc Casper of Thermo Fisher — who told Wall Street analysts last year, "It's exciting to be able to set a new bar on performance, right?" — almost doubled year over year to $7.8 million.

Worth noting: Like other years, several health care companies were acquired in 2020. The CEOs of those companies were not included in the analysis, but still had large paydays.

Go deeper: Health care CEO pay outstrips infectious disease research

Go deeper

Sep 21, 2021 - Health

Democrats' case for prioritizing health care policies

Expand chart
Reproduced from Hart Research Associates; Chart: Axios Visuals

Health care advocates are making the case that the pieces of Democrats' legislative agenda that lower health care costs and expand coverage are the most popular with voters — and should thus be prioritized.

Why it matters: Democrats are trying to figure out what topline spending number they have to work with for their reconciliation package. The lower that number goes, the more the party will have to cut from the package.

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

3 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.