Friday, May 18, 2007

Dr. Bill Roy: "Following the Money in U. S. Health Care for Profit."

by Dr. Bill Roy,
Kansas Congressman, 2nd District, 1970-74

You may have learned by now that I disapprove of the board of United Healthcare Group, Inc. granting its CEO negotiable stock options worth $1.767 billion in 2005. I am constantly relating that huge figure to other numbers I see. For example, it would easily pay for the care of Kansas’ 295,000 uninsured for one year,

Queen Elizabeth II’s recent visit offered another comparison. It was written her fortune is $880 million--less than half of the value of Dr. William B. McQuire’s stock options. And, just think, it took her family generations to extract that fortune from their millions of subjects.

I really am not that excited about the McQuires becoming one more American oligarchical family. Darwinian capitalism is producing them pretty rapidly these days.

But, I do care about America’s 47 million uninsured, over 20 million underinsured, and the unnecessary suffering of those who don’t have financial access to health care. And, I am convinced our country’s spending of one dollar of six for health care has multiple other deleterious affects, like making our automobile industry noncompetitive.

Do you know why we do not have universal health insurance like every other industrialized democracy?

The simple, indisputable answer is “The Republican Party.”

But it is more complicated than that. Following the money provides many of the answers

Our immense health care companies--health insurance companies, for-profit hospital companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, home-care companies and on and on to account for much of $2.2 trillion--do two things very effectively.

One is hire lobbyists, public relations and advertising firms to praise our present system and to blatantly lie about all other systems. They have two skilled, highly paid lobbyists--far more than any other industry--for each member of Congress. And Harry and Louise are always available to mouth lies and half-truths for television ads.

But, their other technique for smothering any health care system reform is more insidious and perhaps more effective. CEOs, who control more wealth than most foreign princes, reach out and bring academicians and politicians into their royal courts, their boards of directors.

This week we read that Tenet, one of America’s two largest for-profit hospital companies, “elected” former Florida governor Jeb Bush to their board with a minimum remuneration of $495,000 for the first year.

This requires attending five board meetings in person and several phone consultations. So much for obsequence to royalty.

But McQuire’s board particularly caught my attention. Former vice-president Walter Mondale served two terms, but not lately. Former New Jersey Republican Governor Thomas Kean is a current member.

Clinton’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services, 1993-2001, Donna Shalala went directly from HHS to the Minnetonka, Minnesota board room of United Healthcare Group. She brought with her 30 honorary degrees, and a likely waning desire to reform health care.

There Shalala joined Dr. Mary O’Neil Mundinger, Dean of Nursing at Columbia University and board member since 1997, just in time to help McQuire sack the company for nearly $2 billion, that included improperly dated stock options.

Mundinger, now 70 and well know for her advocacy for independently practicing nurse practitioners, served on the critical compensation committee with Kean and committee Chairman William J. Spears, who turned out to be McQuire’s personal financial adviser.

Mundinger said re the couple billion that the board just wanted to let McQuire know how much they appreciated him--which gives us a hint about total board compensation.

But the amount must have been unconscionable, as evidenced by the board “voluntarily” reducing their own compensation 20% in 2005 and 40% in 2006.

There were other consequences. McQuire “voluntarily” re-dated his options to the highest stock price in a given year, denying himself several hundred million dollars, and stepped down. Spears also voluntarily left the board after a review of its actions.

McQuire’s board members were just a few among hundreds of compliant health company board members (see Kansas Blue Cross Blue Shield) who deal with enough dollars to numb forever any enthusiasm for a better, more affordable health care system that serves all Americans.

Unnecessary suffering by millions of people is the real consequence of runaway for-profit health care.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

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