Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Influenced a Paean to Karen Ignagne?

As the discussion here in the US about health care reform gathers steam, the Washington Post published a rather uncritical profile of one of the prominent participants, Ms Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the trade group for the health insurance/ managed care industry. It included some compliments from Princeton Professor and prominent health care economist Uwe Reinhardt:

'Whatever AHIP pays her, it's not enough. She's unbelievably effective,' said Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt. 'It's just amazing what she's achieved for them against all odds.'

Ignagni's total compensation, according to AHIP's most recent filing from 2007, was $1.58 million, which includes $700,000 in base salary, $370,000 in deferred compensation and a bonus. Ignagni won't say how many hours a week she works. The number's so high it's embarrassing, she said.

Among successes cited by Reinhardt and others is helping persuade the Bush administration to develop private insurance plans within Medicare that are producing unexpectedly high payments for private insurers.

What the Washington Post article did not bother to mention was that in addition to being on the Princeton faculty, Professor Reinhardt is a member of the board of directors of Amerigroup, a health insurance company specializing in providing Medicaid and Medicare managed care (see this previous post), and a member of AHIP. Former Amerigroup CEO Jeffrey McWalters was on the board of AHIP. According to Amerigroup's 2009 proxy statement, Professor Reinhardt controls (via ownership or options) 144,558 shares of Amerigroup stock, and received $226,531 in compensation from Amerigroup in 2008.

Perhaps Professor Reinhardt's enthusiasm for Karen Ignagne's performance as CEO of AHIP derived more from his leadership of Amerigroup than a scholarly analysis.

Note also that Professor Reinhardt is a member of the board of directors of Boston Scientific, a medical device company. Furthermore, per proxy statements from the above companies, Professor Reinhardt is on the board of two funds from H&Q Healthcare Investors, and is a Trustee of Duke University and the Duke University Health System.

Professor Reinhardt's leadership roles in US publicly traded corporations are public, but not easily found unless one knows where to look. We had first discussed these relationships on Health Care Renewal in 2006. However, many of the more academically tinged biographies of him publicly available omit his leadership roles in the for-profit world. At the moment, biographies of Professor Reinhardt on the Princeton web-site, and furnished by the Princeton Bioethics Forum, the Commonwealth Fund, and the Henry J Kaiser Foundation did not note these relationships.

This illustrates once more participation in the current health policy debate may be driven by vested interests, rather than ideology, much less dispassionate analysis. Were the participants yo disclose, at least, their financial interests, the debate would become that much clearer. Meanwhile, when listening to the debate, always ask, "cui bono?" (Who benefits?)

Hat tip to the Health Care Blog.

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