Monday, January 11, 2010

Non-Profit Health Care Organization Executives: Pay Them Millions or Lose Them?

CareSource is a US not-for-profit managed care organization for Medicaid patients.  This week, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News ran an investigative series on its leadership and governance which may provide a larger lesson on the disconnect between the high ideals and high costs of the dysfunctional US health care system. 

The main issue uncovered by the investigation was CareSource's generosity to its CEO.  As reported in "CareSource CEO's compensation grew faster than revenues at nonprofit,"
From 2005 to 2008, CareSource more than doubled its total revenues — from $770 million to $1.8 billion.

It’s now the nation’s third largest nonprofit Medicaid HMO.

But CareSource’s phenomenal revenue growth was no match for the increase in total compensation for Chief Executive Pamela Morris, whose pay more than tripled — from $877,000 in 2005 to $2.9 million in 2008, according to IRS filings.
Did Pay Buy Performance?

Not only did the CEO's pay grow much faster than the organization she lead, it also seemed disproportionate to what ratings of the organization's performance are available.
In America’s Best Health Plans for 2009-2010 — a survey conducted by U.S. News & World Report and the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) — CareSource ranked 72nd in patient satisfaction and quality of care among 82 HMOs participating in the study. It was the lowest ranking among the four participating Ohio Medicaid plans.
"We Don't Want to Lose Her"

The chair of the organization's Board of Directors claimed that such pay was necessary to secure the CEO's loyalty, per the Daily News,
Ellen Leffak, chairwoman of the CareSource board, said a separate committee of the board sets the top executive salaries with the help of a consultant. The committee monitors what is being paid at both for-profit and non-profit competitors.

Leffak said Morris is worth her multimillion-dollar compensation.

'We don’t want to lose her' to another HMO, Leffak said. 'She has provided outstanding service to the organization and we think she should be adequately compensated.'

The implication, which perhaps Ms Leffak did not mean to openly convey, was that Ms Morris' dedication to the organization and its not-for-profit mission were less important than her desire for a multi-million dollar paycheck.  (Parenthetically, Ms Leffak also failed to specify how Ms Morris' service was determined to be "outstanding,")

Furthermore, The Daily News also reported:
CareSource officials say Morris’ pay hike, which included a $1.2 million incentive payout in 2008 from her supplemental retirement plan, is in line with salaries paid top executives with similar experience at its for-profit competitors. Morris is 61 and has been with CareSource for 24 years.
The newspaper provided a table of CEO compensation at such for-profit competitors. The best-paid CEO in the table was Heath G Schiesser of Wellcare Health Plans, who received $8,077,718. The article did not mention that not onlyh is Wellcare for profit, but it claims to be a "nation-wide" operation.  It also did not mention that in August, 2009, Wellcare paid a fine for findings, which it did not contest, that it paid political contributions in Florida that violated state law (see post here).  Also, in May, 2009 we posted about WellCare's submission to a deferred prosecution agreemeent based on charges that it defrauded state programs by inflating its expenses. In 2007, we posted about how the state of Connecticut stopped WellCare from running a plan for poor children after the company refused to reveal what it was paying physicians, and why it was failing to pay for particular services. So WellCare has paid three penalties for three different kinds of unethical behavior in the last two years.

To be clear, it was the newspaper that stated Wellcare ought to be a standard of comparison, not Ms Leffak, Ms Morrison, or any CareSource official.  However, the choice of comparison further suggests how money may trump mission.

Competing Against Stock Options
Meanwhile, the Dayton Daily News published another article ("Critics question hospitals' CEO on CareSource board) which suggested that the governance of CareSource may have resonated with the notion that the leadership of not-for-profit health care organizations may be more motivated by money than mission.
Since the HMO’s inception in 1983, Tom Breitenbach, chief executive of Premier Health Partners, has had a hand in shaping CareSource. He continues today on the governing board of its parent, CareSource Management Group Services.

But in recent months, health care officials and providers have raised questions about whether the head of the region’s largest hospital system should sit on the board of the parent organization of the region’s largest source of Medicaid payments.

'How can that not be a conflict of interest?' said Dr. Larry Litscher, a Dayton area urologist. 'They (the CareSource board members) have to determine the reimbursement levels' for hospitals and doctors providing service to CareSource patients. 'How can that not be interpreted as a big advantage for the hospitals?'

But beyond the issue of conflict of interest, last year, the Dayton Daily News reported on Mr Breitenbach's own incentives:
In 2001, as Premier Health Partners Chief Executive Tom Breitenbach neared age 55, he was given an executive investment plan in addition to his supplemental retirement benefits that paid him nearly $9 million from 2002 to 2007. The requirements were that Breitenbach assume the risk of the investment and stay on as head of Premier until age 60.

In 2001, MedAmerica Health Systems Corp., the parent company of Premier Health Partners and six smaller for-profit subsidiaries, found a novel way to help keep Breitenbach at the helm — they invested some of the supplemental retirement benefits he had accrued over 25 years into an executive option plan of mutual funds, in which Breitenbach assumed all risk. Breitenbach cashed out $6.7 million from the plan in 2003, another $660,000 in 2006 and a final payment of $1.5 million in 2007, for a total of $8.9 million, IRS documents show.

Also, according to the MedAmerica Health Systems 2007 Form 990 (available through Guidestar), Mr Breitbach's total compensation was $4,044,915.

Again, the reason to pay so well seemed to be the fear that in the absence of for-profit levels of compensation, executives of not-for-profit organizations would quit to seek higher recompense in the for-profit world.
In setting compensation levels, local hospital officials say they must compete with for-profit enterprises that can offer top executives hefty stock options, country club memberships and other perks that nonprofits can't. 'For-profit or nonprofit, it really has to do with attracting and retaining talent,' said Pete Luongo, who sits on the compensation committee of Kettering Adventist Healthcare, the parent of Kettering Health Network and its six hospitals.
The implication is that not-for-profit health care organizations can and should hire people who care more about the level of compensation offered than the not-for-profit organizations' lofty missions.

In this case, CareSource Says its mission is:
to make a difference in the lives of underserved people by improving their health care.

At CareSource, our mission is one we take to heart. In fact, we call our mission our 'heartbeat.' It is the essence of our company, and our unwavering dedication to it is a hallmark of our success.

Our Vision is to be an innovative leader in the management of quality public-sector health care programs.

Premier Health Partners says its mission is:
We will build healthier communities with others who share our commitment to provide high-quality, cost-competitive health care services.

What cognitive dissonance is created by an organization dedicated to serving the "underserved" and another which espouses "cost-competitive" health care lead by CEOs who can only be retained by making them multi-millionaires. 

Summary and Conclusions
Leaders of not-for-profit organizations, starting with their boards of trustees, are supposed to subscribe to the duty of  obedience, "to be faithful to the organization's mission,"  and the duty of loyalty, " give undivided allegiance when making decisions affecting the organization." Presumably, that can be extended to the requirement that the top hired executives of not-for-profit put the mission ahead of their own personal gain.  Thus, boards of trustees who feel that they can only retain hired CEOs by pay so high that they will not be tempted by offers from for-profit corporations have failed in their duty by hiring CEOs who put their personal financial interests ahead of the mission. 

I believe that the compensation given to CareSource and Premier Health Care CEOs, and the rationale for it, are not anomalies.  There have been many other reports about leaders of not-for-profit health care organizations compensated enough to make them multi-millionaires, justified mainly by the need to provide pay "competitive" with that available from for-profit corporations  (e.g., see posts here and here).  Yet not-for-profit CEOs mercenary enough so that they can only be retained by for-profit levels of pay seem to be exactly the sort of people who should not be running what are supposed to be mission-oriented organizations.  Of course, the problem is only amplified when the same mercenary CEOs sit on each others' boards.

When money becomes the only value for health care leaders, the health care system will cost a lot, but provide neither health nor care.  The only way to improve health care is to give it leadership that values health and caring for it more than money.    

1 comment:

Lori said...

And the CareSource CEO's salary is ultimately paid by the taxpayers since the insured are Medicaid recipients, correct? Do the taxpayers of Ohio feel that their money is being well spent?