Kevin Cullen

Blue Cross at top of the heap, thanks to governor’s inaction

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / March 6, 2011

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Blue Cross Blue Shield had a good week.

Forget the embarrassing headlines about the disgraceful amounts of money the supposedly nonprofit Blue Cross has seen fit to give its last two former chief executives, somewhere in the neighborhood of $28 million, the kind of neighborhood most of us can only drive by.

Forget the headlines about politically wired Blue Cross board members raking in up to $89,000 a year to sit around a big table and drink coffee and nod up and down like those toy dogs in the back windows of Buicks on Revere Beach, circa 1972.

Headlines, like memories and outrage, fade.

Blue Cross, the state’s biggest health insurer, will feel less pressure to cut these Marie Antoinette compensation packages because of the really big news last week: the decision by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, the state’s second- and third-biggest insurers, to not merge.

So Blue Cross will remain the top insurance dog, safe in the knowledge that for all the whining of us proles, they can pretty much do whatever they like. Frankly, so can Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts Health.

It was a good week for Blue Cross made better by the refusal of our esteemed governor to speak the truth and call the $11 million big fat wet kiss given to former CEO Cleve Killingsworth what it is, and the word is obscene. It’s almost as bad as the $16 million given to Killingsworth’s predecessor, William Van Faasen.

Cornered by reporters Friday, Deval Patrick sounded like Peter in the Garden at Gethsemane, rejecting chance after chance to speak the truth about the money Blue Cross hands its big shots.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,’’ the frustrated governor said. “I’m not going to get into managing individual companies or individual compensation.’’

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like the same guy who threatened to withhold state business from Hyatt Hotels after the chain crudely and cruelly replaced 100 housekeepers at its hotels in Boston and Cambridge with people who were forced to work more for less pay and benefits.

“You tell me that there are sound financial reasons for the company’s decision, and I accept that,’’ Patrick wrote Sept. 22, 2009, to Mark Hoplamazian, the chief executive of Hyatt Hotels. “But the manner in which these workers were discharged is so inconsistent with both the expressed values of the Hyatt organization and basic fairness.’’

Blue Cross flunkies can bleat as much as they want about the compensation packages they give their CEOs and board members being commensurate with the marketplace and blah blah blah. The truth is, to paraphrase the governor, it is inconsistent with both the expressed values of a nonprofit and basic fairness.

Somebody pays those salaries, and that somebody is people struggling to pay their health insurance.

When Patrick stood up for the Hyatt housekeepers, it might have been his finest moment as governor. When he bit his tongue on Killingsworth, lest he embarrass a guy who contributed to his campaign, it might have been his worst.

If Patrick’s righteous stance with the discarded housekeepers reminded us of where he came from, a poor neighborhood in Chicago, his refusal to use his soapbox to condemn ridiculously inflated corporate salaries reminds us of the space he occupied before the corner office at the State House: the plush, velvet coffin confines of corporate law.

Maybe as the recipient of corporate golden parachutes himself, Patrick is concerned about appearing hypocritical. If so, he’s the first politician in the history of civilization to feel that way.

Besides, he had a plane to catch. To Denver. To speak at a Democratic fund-raiser. Where the Cleve Killingsworths of Colorado ponied up huge amounts of money, of course expecting nothing in return.

Since the governor was incapable of saying what needed to be said, I called Tom Mazzeo and asked him what he thought of the money Blue Cross hands out to its honchos.

“You can’t print what I think,’’ Tom Mazzeo said.

A couple of years ago, Tom Mazzeo had to take $2,200 out of his own pocket and loan it to his daughter, Carolyn Davis, because Blue Cross refused to cover all of the expenses associated with surgery for his then 4-year-old granddaughter Haylee.

That Blue Cross would stiff a working-class family from Weymouth for two grand while lavishing millions on its overpaid leaders and rubber-stamp board says everything.

The amount Carolyn Davis paid Blue Cross and is paying back her father in monthly installments — $2,200 — is exactly the amount Killingsworth contributed to the campaigns of Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray.

Well, Blue Cross doesn’t have Carolyn Davis to kick around any more. She lost her job, and her insurance, last year. Haylee and her little sister are now on Mass Health, and maybe the state’s insurer of the poor can do a better job than Blue Cross, the compensator of the rich.

“I’m still paying my dad back,’’ Carolyn Davis said. “I have three years to go, but it’s going to be almost impossible to pay him while I’m unemployed.’’

Carolyn Davis was a project administrator for a construction company.

“The construction industry has tanked,’’ she said.

The health insurance industry, meanwhile, appears to be doing just swell.

Maybe the next time there’s an opening on the Blue Cross board, they can appoint Carolyn Davis. They could use her experience. She could use the job.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at