Silence from healthcare CEOs on AHCA politics is deafening


As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., continue to wrangle over ways to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a key group of stakeholders has remained conspicuously silent: healthcare CEOs.

Few healthcare executives are wielding their influence publicly to shape legislation now being drafted in the Senate even though it will significantly affect their companies’ bottom lines and their customers. Instead, they seem to be relying on industry lobbying groups to carry the water. Their silence is a missed opportunity to serve their patients’ best interests, some experts say.

“Health insurance CEOs in particular could be very influential if they weighed in on whether the (American Health Care Act) would stabilize or destabilize the market,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Just a handful of CEOs have raised concerns about the GOP bill, which passed in the House May 4, and the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration’s efforts to undercut the ACA.

Paul Markovich, CEO of Blue Shield of California, for example, early this month blasted the AHCA for threatening to leave millions more Americans uninsured. After proclaiming Obamacare to be in a death spiral earlier in the year, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini this month urged the Trump administration to give up repealing the law and fix it instead.

Healthcare CEOs are hiding behind industry lobbying groups instead of publicly using their power to push for changes in the Republicans’ healthcare reform bill.

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health’s CEO, Michael Dowling, told the New York Times that the GOP bill would drown hospitals that serve low-income patients. And Dr. J. Mario Molina, recently ousted as CEO of Medicaid insurer Molina Healthcare, criticized the legislation for threatening to raise premiums and further destabilize the individual insurance market.

But these candid executives are rarities. Elsewhere in the industry, it’s crickets, despite warnings from health policy experts who say the AHCA could leave more than 20 million Americans without health insurance.

“There’s been a lessening of CEOs speaking out who should be speaking out,” said Bill George, a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School who was CEO of medical-device maker Medtronic from 1991 to 2001. “But I think (CEOs) have an obligation because it’s going to have such a dramatic effect on everyone’s business.”

A spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry’s largest lobbying group, said several health plans have provided their perspective on healthcare reform. But “what’s more important is that health plans are speaking with one voice about how the AHCA would impact those who rely on Medicaid or the individual market for coverage, and the improvements we recommend.”

It is possible CEOs have gone mum out of fear, George said. President Donald Trump sent the shares of Boeing and Lockheed Martin tumbling after criticizing the companies via Twitter.

“A lot of CEOs that I know are fearful of a Trump tweet,” said George, who has served on the boards of companies including the Mayo Clinic and Novartis.

Molina told Modern Healthcare that his ousting from the company his father built could have a “chilling effect” on healthcare advocacy. The Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have the power to disrupt healthcare companies’ business models, and insurers are relying on taxpayer-funded government programs as an increasing portion of their revenue. Medicaid makes up 20% and Medicare Advantage accounts for 12% of insurers’ total premium revenue in aggregate, according to ratings firm S&P Global.

The individual insurance market, on the other hand, represents a small slice of insurers’ revenue—less than 10% of total premium revenue.

The stakes are high for health insurers and their patients. Insurers are busy determining individual insurance rates for 2018. In the five states that have published 2018 rates so far—Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia—and the District of Columbia, insurers consistently asked for double-digit rate hikes with some requests exceeding 50%.

Those 2018 rates could climb even higher if the federal government doesn’t take steps to ease insurers’ jitters over ACA repeal-and-replace efforts, insurers said.

“This is a very serious situation. Just as people are adjusting to the ACA, now we’re going to have the AHCA, and (companies) don’t know what’s going to be in there,” George said. “CEOs have to be engaged. I don’t think they have a choice.”

Shelby Livingston is an insurance reporter. Before joining Modern Healthcare in 2016, she covered employee benefits at Business Insurance magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s in English from Clemson University.

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Silence from healthcare CEOs on AHCA politics is deafening

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