University of Pittsburgh Medical Center lobbyist Leslie McCombs used Pittsburgh Pirates baseball tickets purchased by UPMC’s insurance arm to entertain film executives and others to promote the creation of a state film tax credit, according to the State Ethics Commission.
The commission fined McCombs $5,025 for failing to promptly register as a lobbyist for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and omitting a daytime phone number in registering as a lobbyist for UPMC, according to a commission ruling reached on July 22. The confidential decision was disclosed Sept. 9 by The Associated Press.
McCombs, who works for UPMC as a consultant, received permission from UPMC President and CEO Jeffrey Romoff to lobby on behalf of Lions Gate, which she described in a February 2007 e-mail to him as the, 'largest independent producer and distributor of motion pictures and television in the country.'
Romoff cleared her work with Lions Gate after consulting with UPMC legal counsel and assured by McCombs in the e-mail that, 'UPMC signs will be prominently featured throughout the (‘Kill Pit’ television) series.'
Filming for the eight-part miniseries, which was renamed 'The Kill Point,' began in March 2007 in Pittsburgh. Gov. Ed Rendell signed the Film Production Tax Credit bill into law in July 2007, which provided for a 25 percent film tax credit to offset production expenses.
From 2005 to 2006, McCombs was director of public relations for UPMC Health Plan, a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit hospital network. She was then named senior consultant with UPMC’s government relations department.
The State Ethics Commission lists 18 baseball games where McCombs treated Lions Gate and government officials using UPMC tickets.
In addition, she attended a June 15, 2007, matchup against the Chicago White Sox with Rendell and his wife, Marjorie, and Romoff and his wife, Stefania, according to the commission.
It’s not clear from the commission report whose interests McCombs was representing at that game, but Rendell later reimbursed $960 for the tickets to the five games that he attended, which was returned to the health plan.
In 2007, UPMC Health Plan bought $61,440 worth of Pittsburgh Pirates tickets, which were available to employees of the insurer 'in the performance of their duties,' the report states. The sum included a $20,000 seat license.
So did you get all that? The director of public relations for the UPMC Health Plan, the managed care subsidiary of UPMC, a large academic medical center, lobbied the state governor for the enactment of a tax credit for television and movie production, partially so that the UPMC logo would appear in a television series, and entertained the governor using a few of the more than $60,000 worth of baseball tickets the medical center purchased for employee use. Amidst the complication, the public relations director violated state lobbying rules. None of these shenanigans had anything directly to do with health care, or medical education and research. The only conceivable advantage accruing to the institution would be the appearance of the UPMC logo in a television series. But most likely everyone had good times at the ball game.
This story again suggests that managers of health care organization are more focused on playing marketing and political games than on health care, and generally are more focused on benefiting themselves than upholding their organizations' mission. The amounts of money involved in this case may be small, but do not underestimate the collective effects on health care access, cost and quality of managers who have their eyes on the wrong balls.
UPMC has provided grist for the Health Care Renewal mill before, see earlier posts here, here, here and here.