Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Paying CEOs of Health Care Not-For-Profit Organizations: "Greed is Good?"

Million dollar plus executives of not-for-profit health care insurance companies seem to be becoming a dime a dozen.  Late in April, Buffalo Business First reported the pay of executives of some western New York health insurance companies:
The top local executives at the region’s three major nonprofit health plans received nearly $23 million in salaries and bonuses last year.

More than 70 people received total compensation of $160,000 or more. That’s the level at which insurers are required to report in annual reports to the state Department of Insurance.

When you include executives who work for those three health plans but are located outside Western New York, the total compensation for top-paid execs totaled $46.4 million last year.

Among the local executives in the Western New York region, 23 individuals took home more than $300,000 last year.

Among the CEO-level executives:

• Alphonso O’Neil-White, president and CEO at HealthNow NY Inc./BlueCross BlueShield of WNY earned $1.65 million.

• Dr. Michael Cropp, president and CEO at Independent Health, earned $1.3 million.

• Univera Healthcare President Art Wingerter, who joined the company part-way through the year, earned $248,348, while David Klein, president/CEO of Univera’s Rochester-based parent Excellus Health Plan, received a total of $2 million.

Wingerter says compensation levels are fair and are determined with help from outside consultants based on nationwide industry surveys. They are also adjusted annually based on the organization’s performance: Top officers at Excellus saw salaries decline last year by 20 percent based on the company’s 2008 performance.

'Our compensation levels fall into the midpoint by design,' he says. 'It’s a $5 billion company. If you compared it to any leader of a $5 billion (for-profit) company, I do not believe it would be considered excessive.'

Consider that argument while reading this story from neighboring New Jersey reported by the Ashbury Park Press:
William J. Marino, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, received $8.7 million in compensation in 2009, a 59 percent increase from 2008, according to the company's annual financial statement.

The salary and bonus were part of a windfall for Horizon's nine highest-paid executives, who received on average 61 percent more than in 2008, the statement, filed with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, showed.

Part of the increase came from compensation that was deferred from previous years, the company said. But the pay sparked anger from consumers and medical professionals who have battled Horizon over rising premiums and declining reimbursements.

Newark-based Horizon is the state's biggest health insurance company, writing policies and administering self-funded programs for more than 3 million people. It has 72 percent of the individual market and 52 percent of the small employer market, according to the state.

The company is a nonprofit....

Meantime, Horizon's top nine executives took home a total of $24.3 million in salaries and bonuses last year, up from $15.1 million in 2008.

Another article in the same paper stated that in 2009, Horizon
reported net income of $75.1 million last year, compared with a loss of $45 million in 2008. It reported revenue of $8.3 billion, up from $7.9 billion the previous year.

The company collected 3.5 percent more in premiums. And it lowered administrative expenses by 3.5 percent, according to the annual report.

Let us reconsider the rationale for the pay of the Excellus (NY) CEO. Its basis was the pay given to CEOs of for-profit corporations. Yet the nature of for-profit and not-for-profit corporations are fundamentally different. The former exist to make money. The latter exist to fulfill their missions.

For example, this statement is on the Excellus web-site:
As New York state's largest nonprofit health plan, the company remains committed to three core principles:

* We exist to assure, in the communities we serve, that as many people as possible have affordable, dignified access to needed, effective health care services, including long-term care.
* We recognize the need, and our responsibility, to reach out to all segments of the communities we serve, particularly the poor and aged and others who are underserved, to enhance quality of life, including health status.
* We are committed to being a nonprofit health insurer.

The devotion that a not-for-profit organization is supposed to have to its mission suggests that working for such an organization, particularly in a leadership capacity should be calling, rather than just a way to make money. Equating leadership of such an organization to leadership of a for-profit corporation of comparable financial size provokes cognitive dissonance. So the notion that the leader of Excellus, an organization supposedly devoted to serving the "poor and aged," is entitled to make as much money as the leader of a for-profit corporation with similar revenues likewise provokes cognitive dissonance.

However, let us assume, just assume, that the $2 million pay of the CEO of Excellus Health Plan was fair for a $5 billion not-for-profit company. Horizon is an $8.3 billion company, roughly 60% larger, but its CEO got $8.7 million, 330% more. Furthermore, the Horizon CEO saw his pay go up 59% while company revenue rose 3.5%. What possible argument could there be to justify these even more extreme levels of compensation?

Here was the Ashbury Park Press' editorial reaction:
If truth be told, when it comes to the American health insurance system, the Hippocratic Oath — 'First, do no harm' — is too often trumped by Gordon Gecko's 'Wall Street' axiom: 'Greed is good.'

There's no better example than the shameful $8.7 million in compensation paid last year to William J. Marino, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey....

How tone-deaf could Horizon be to bestow this kind of compensation on its executives? The only decent thing for Marino and his cohorts to do is to return the bonuses.

The disconnect between these well-heeled executives and the customers their non-profit company — that's right, nonprofit — are supposedly serving is staggering.

We have discussed numerous examples of compensation of health care organizations' leadership that seems orders of magnitude above that which would be rationally justified.  These latest examples of the wealth being accumulated by leaders of supposedly mission-centered not-for-profit organizations are a product of the current management culture that has been infused into nearly every health care organization in the US. That culture holds that managers are different from you and me. They are entitled to a special share of other people's money. Because of their innate and self-evident brilliance, they are entitled to become rich. This entitlement exists even when the economy, or the financial performance of the specific organization prevents other people from making any economic progress. This entitlement exists even if those other people actually do the work, and ultimately provide the money that sustains the organization.

Although the executives of not-for-profit health care organizations generally make far less than executives of for-profit health care corporations, collectively, hired managers of even not-for-profit health care organizations have become richer and richer at a time when most Americans, including many health professionals, and most primary care physicians, have seen their incomes stagnate or fall. They are less and less restrained by passive, if not crony boards, and more and more unaccountable. In a kind of multi-centric coup d'etat of the hired managers, they have become our new de facto aristocracy.

Or as we wrote in our previous post, executive compensation in health care seems best described as Prof Mintzberg described compensation for finance CEOs, "All this compensation madness is not about markets or talents or incentives, but rather about insiders hijacking established institutions for their personal benefit." As it did in finance, compensation madness is likely to keep the health care bubble inflating until it bursts, with the expected adverse consequences. Meanwhile, I say again, if health care reformers really care about improving access and controlling costs, they will have to have the courage to confront the powerful and self-interested leaders who benefit so well from their previously mission-driven organizations. It is time to reverse the coup d'etat of the hired managers.


JPB said...

Bravo! Thank you for continuing to expose this very substantial scandal!!!

AMH in Ohio said...

It's not just the insurance companies either. Have you seen how much money the directors make at places like the Red Cross? It is way too high.