HMO REFORM: Closed-Door Meeting Continues to Draw Fire
"Nearly all of a group of business and labor leaders invited to meet with Gov. Gray Davis behind closed doors this week to advise him on HMO oversight are Davis campaign donors," the AP/Sacramento Bee reports. "While Davis has refused to release a list of attendees," at least six business leaders, five lawmakers, a labor leader and four of Davis' aides were at the meeting. Among the attendees were Alan Hoops, president and CEO of PacifiCare Health Systems, which gave Davis $100,650 last year, Jay Gellert, president and CEO of Foundation Health, which gave Davis $15,000, Walter Zelman, president and CEO of the California Association of Health Plans, which gave Davis $10,000 and Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, who personally gave Davis $4,625. The AP/Bee notes that in addition, the federation "poured million of dollars into Davis' campaign last year" and "Zelman's HMO group held a fundraiser recently that brought in more than $100,000 for Davis' campaign." Both Davis and Zelman denied any connection to either the money or Davis' decisions on HMO reform. "If people had the misimpression that this was going to be a meeting in which great deals were cut, their expectations would have been unmet. There was nothing said in that room by legislators or anyone on our side that hasn't been said 100 times before," Zelman said. But Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, "said she was troubled by the secret nature of the meeting."
The AP/Bee reports that "[n]o concrete decisions emerged from the session," but there appeared to be general agreement that an external appeals process should be created and that a consumer ombudsman should be provided. Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Montebello) said that "something of a consensus was reached" on the contentious issue of HMO lawsuits, with those in attendance agreeing that if HMO suits were allowed, "awards should be limited" (Lindlaw, 7/23).
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who earlier in the week sent a letter to Davis questioning the relationship between his fundraising and decision-making process on HMO reform, has sent another letter to Davis, again co-signed by Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, asking Davis "to freeze all his fund-raising activities indefinitely, saying the donations are creating the appearance of conflicts of interest." The letter asked: "To protect the integrity of the office, we urge you to declare a moratorium on your fund-raising until such a time as you have set forth in detail your position on consumer, environmental, health and safety and other legislative matters of interest to the wealthy corporate lobbies." Garry South, Davis' chief political advisor, said, "That's simply not going to happen" (Lindlaw, AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/23).