Massachusetts Sec. of State Seeks To Limit HMO Political Spending
Calling the nearly $4 million that Massachusetts not-for-profit HMOs spent to campaign against Question 5 -- a failed state ballot initiative that would have mandated universal health care in the state -- "outrageous," Secretary of State William Galvin announced Nov. 21 that he will introduce legislation "to curtail their ability to finance such campaigns," the Boston Globe reports. Galvin's bill for the 2001 legislative session would permit HMO subscribers to deduct from their health insurance premiums if they "disagreed" with the political contributions made by the company. He said, "It is outrageous that allegedly not-for-profit health care providers have spent millions of dollars of patients' money to campaign on a referendum, while cutting back on services to their members." Massachusetts General Hospital internist Dr. John Goodson, director of the "Yes on 5" Campaign, "praised" Galvin's legislation and the choice it would grant consumers "over how their insurance corporations use their patients' care dollars." He added that HMOs "violated the public trust" by spending so much money to defeat the proposal. However, HMOs "lashed back" at Galvin and accused him of working to "promote his political career by using the not-for-profits as whipping boys" in what amounts to a "publicity stunt." Insurers say they campaigned against the proposal because it would have "dramatically" raised premiums. Alan Raymond, spokesperson for Harvard Pilgrim, explained, "We felt very strongly that [money spent on the campaign] was a very good investment, because the cost to our members, if Question 5 passed, would have been hundreds of dollars per year." The Globe reminds readers that in July, Harvard Pilgrim announced that 11,000 seniors would be dropped from its plan and that mental health services would be cut back, adding that Galvin's legislation could "keep the political heat on the HMOs, just as they savor their victory at the polls" (Phillips, Boston Globe, 11/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.