Hitting employees for PACs

Hitting employees for PACs

February 19th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Most observers are familiar with the corporate mantra that unions shouldn't be allowed to collect member's dues via payroll check-offs, a transparent stab at unions' financial viability. But what about corporate masters who send in-house letters to masses of their workers appealing for "contributions" to support the corporation's political action committees? Isn't that akin to extortion in the cause of partisan politics by people who hold power over their employees' jobs?

Yes, it clearly is. And that's why BlueCross BlueShield needs to be reminded -- hopefully by employees' bold refusals to bend to that implied coercion -- that it has no business using its clout over its employees, not to mention its profits from its customers' insurance premiums, to finance political lobbying against health care reform and the Obama administration.

That is transparently the purpose of the new BluePAC that BlueCross BlueShield has created to lobby at the federal level. The new PAC comes in addition to the company's existing state TPAC, which donates to friendly lawmakers and lobbies for state legislation and that advances the insurer's interest. It's also in addition to its corporate contributions to the national federal PAC supported by other BlueCross BlueShield companies. The company already solicits donations from select employees to those PACs.

The new BluePAC fundraising letter sent by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's largest health insurer, to 2,500 of 5,300 employees statewide specifically cited the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, which the company's CEO Vicky Gregg has publicly opposed.

"As you are well aware, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are in a new political environment of opportunities and challenges for our company and industry," Gregg said in the letter. "Your support of our PAC is important in giving us an opportunity to help determine who will govern us and who will set the business climate in which we operate." (Emphasis ours.)

That seems like an unmistakable reference to the corporation's goal -- or, at least Gregg's -- to help defeat Obama and dismantle the ACA, which has already put a number of valuable restrictions on the abuses of the nation's richest insurers. For example, it has banned the use of so-called "pre-existing" conditions, which cruelly denied the most needed care; it ends annual and lifetimes limits on covered care; it allows adult children to stay on their parents' company insurance plans until the age of 26, even if they are married and living away from home; it covers many wellness medical benefits; and it would require insurers to spend at least 85 percent of their premium dollars from customers in large groups on actual health care for these customers, and 80 percent of premium dollars for small group customers -- which hopefully will reduce administrative bloat and lavish pay for multi-millionaire executives.

If not repealed by a new Republican president, the ACA would establish state insurance exchanges by 2014 to ensure competitive policy prices, and it would require states to fix a floor for comprehensive care plans to be offered through those exchanges. Lastly, and most importantly, it would establish significant income-adjusted subsidies for most every middle-class family, up to four times the poverty level (about $80,000 for a family of four) to help Americans purchase quality health care that would not be dependent on employers' whims and mounting demands for high-dollar deductibles and co-pays.

These reforms are desperately needed by millions of Americans, whose current employer-based insurance is rapidly disappearing. The insurance industry's PACS will work to overturn these reforms. Employees should not be under the cloud of implied coercion to contribute to an anti-reform PAC that would demean their political independence, or ill serve the interests of their families.

BlueCross BlueShield, alas, is within its legal rights to ask administrative employees to contribute to its PACs, and it is technically barred from retaliating against those who refuse to contribute. But the risk of being identified as a non-contributor weighs heavily in the wings. It would be far better for BlueCross BlueShield to stop its solicitation for "contributions" to the company's PACs.