Police Arrest Twelve at Regence

Part of 54 arrests in nine states, Portland demonstrators chose Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield

October 15, 2009 -- Police arrested 12 people today for trespassing outside the Portland headquarters of Regence BlueCross BlueShield. The acts of civil disobedience were met by similar direct actions in nine cities across the country organized by Healthcare Now and the Center for the Working Poor. 

Including the 12 in Portland, 54 people were arrested nationwide.

<<For an audio version of this story at KBOO.fm click here.>>
 
There have been many protests for healthcare reform in Portland recently, but this is the first incident in some time that involved non-violent civil disobedience with the intent of getting arrested.
 
Guy Marx, a registered nurse, was part of the protest but didn't get arrested.
 
"We believe the act of civil disobedience will bring more light, and show that even healthcare workers are willing to risk arrest," Marx said.
 
What started with a group of 26 people intending arrest, including two first-year medical students, shrunk to a group of 12 when police arrived. Those 12 were told they would likely spend the night in jail and face trespassing charges, terms they were willing to live with.
 
Dawnette McCloud, also a registered nurse, explained what took place.

”We originally planned to go in the lobby and ask to speak to the CEO to address some specific issues such as premiums going toward lobbying,” McCloud said. “But we’ve been told the building’s been locked down. So we plan to approach the doors, and ask to speak to the CEO. At that point if we aren't allowed to discuss these issues with him, then we’ll stand at all the entrances.”
 
As protesters stood at an entrance to a parking garage, several Regence employees approached, and a few protesters muscled their way through their locked arms.
 
Chris Lowe, one of the lead organizers, described their letter of demands.
 
“We’re here demanding that they not deny care to anyone with a life threatening condition, care that’s ordered by a doctor, and that they stop corrupting the political debate with our premiums,” Lowe said. “And we’re here advocating single payer healthcare because that’s the only kind of solution that can address all dimensions of the healthcare crisis.”
 
It’s unclear whether Regence CEO Mark Ganz received their letter of demands, but eventually the protesters did hear from Regence spokeswoman Angela Hult with police officers standing by her side.
 
“We appreciate you’re right to your opinion,” Hult told the demonstrators standing in a loading dock entrance. “But if you could, please leave. You are blocking access to our building. You are trespassing. And if you don’t leave, I have authorization to have you removed from the premises for trespassing.”
 
The police sergeant warned that arrests were imminent, then made the arrests. Protesters were handcuffed, escorted to the paddy wagon and taken to the police station.

Regence denies it’s part of problem

 
Hult later said protesters were targeting the wrong insurer. She denied that executive compensation and lobbying efforts by Regence were contrary to healthcare reform efforts.
 
“A lot of the message here is that they are protesting insurance profits. My point is we’re the wrong target," Hult said. "We’re a nonprofit health insurer. We've been advocating for healthcare reform as has the health insurance industry. I think folks here probably don’t know that.”
 
In general, Regence hasn't had much to say about reform efforts in Congress. At the state level, it's passed the 1 percent premium tax adopted by the legislature onto rate payers as have other insurers.
 
In Congress, Regence generally supports bi-partisan reform. Without being explicit, that means reform without a public option and without free choice as proposed by Senator Ron Wyden.
 
Following passage of the reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week, which is considered the most conservative of the bills circulating through Congress, Ganz issued a statement saying he was “cautiously optimistic.”
 
“Regence continues to be cautiously optimistic that an economically sustainable healthcare reform package will be adopted this year,” Ganz said. “Today's vote is an important step toward ensuring long-term healthcare security and stability for all Americans. However, there is still more work to be done."
 
Last year, Regence – a non-profit health plan – took in $600 million in premiums. It spent 86 percent of those dollars on medical care. In Oregon, it spent $42 million on administration, and paid its CEO Mark Ganz at least $1.8 million last year.
 
And while enrollment shrunk, premiums increased by 26 percent last year and 14 percent already this year.

Rejected for carpal tunnel

 
According to Gillian Hearst, Regence denied her husband, Patrick Collier, coverage for an individual health plan because of a pre-existing carpal tunnel syndrome.
 
"He was diagnosed with this but he was never treated. We had Blue Cross coverage in Illinois, and I thought we’d get it out here no problem. Thankfully he was in the Navy so he went back to the Veterans Association and gets his care there now.”
 
Every year roughly one in four, roughly 20,000 individuals  who apply for health insurance are rejected in Oregon.
 
Hearst said Regence dragged its feet in sending them an official denial notice so they could enroll in the high risk pool where coverage is guaranteed for people with pre-existing conditions.
 
"Because we first needed some specific form from them before that could happen, he just said I’m going to go back to the VA," she said.
 
Even if Congress bars the practice of rejecting people with pre-existing conditions, it won’t solve the problem of charging premiums based on age, she added. 

“It’s a positive but I’m concerned with the ageism involved. I’m 44. Next year my premiums are going to go up when I’m 45.”

For an audio version of this story at KBOO.fm click here.

For related articles about Regence click here.

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Comments

as a Regence employee I find it interesting that your article neglected to mention that the protesters pursued and injured a few of our employees. This was no peaceful protest, which you would know if you had been here.

Yes, there were a few physical encounters that Regence employees initiated by trying to break through a line of protesters. Far from "pursued and injured," the group had their arms locked and made clear they were blocking the entrance to a garage. I would say there was mutual pushing by some when three or four employees muscled through their chain of arms. There are additional photos I took of the incident here: http://kboo.fm/node/16990

I believe you need to do more research. Your quote "Last year, Regence – a non-profit health plan – took in $600 million in premiums. It spent 86 percent of those dollars on medical care. In Oregon, it spent $42 million on administration, and paid its CEO Mark Ganz at least $800,000 including a $100,000 bonus." is interesting. First, Regence (as is the case with most of the insurers in OR) is NOT a "non-profit" health plan - it is a not-for-profit health plan, and that is not the same thing. Also, maybe you should think about the $42 million in administrative costs and divide that by the number of employees. That would put the figure in perspective and truly show that this were an unbiased article written by an informed source.

Thanks for your comments. But I still don't understand what you think is incorrect. The figures quoted here come from financial documents that Regence submits to the Oregon Insurance Division. We looked them up and wrote about this several times: http://www.thelundreport.org/resources/financials. To your point about administrative costs, a far better way to judge them would be based on number of enrollees, with some adjustments made for age. When we compared Regence to Kaiser, Regence came out far ahead. I've written about that here: http://www.thelundreport.org/resource/oregon_takes_lead_in_insurance_cos....

Well, perhaps you would be so kind as to edify all readers as to the difference, between "nonprofit" is not equal to "not-for-profit", rather than simply alluding to it. Fascinating that Angela Hult is the individual that publicly stated "they" were a nonprofit. Perhaps if Mr. Ganz had the summoned the courage to make a public appearance, he could have been more explicit and correct in characterizing the financial standing he heads and is so very well compensated for. He is not an unintelligent man. I also suggest you take the time to collect, say, five years worth of TRG Organizational charts, because these will directly provide clear evidence to you that TRG and BCBSO (and BC's-WA, ID, UT) organizations, own and control several large for profit entities. So, in addition to collecting premiums, and benefiting from profiteering via Health Benefit dollars not spent on health care, and doled out to top heavy executive and director layers, structured by convoluted operations within TRG to retain tax exemptions, one has to ask: what is TRG as a whole, and BCBSO specifically and directly doing for uninsured medical needs within Oregon? The latter question is not rhetorical, I would like to know with specificity, every single thing they are doing to mitigate unmet medical needs for this small state. If they are not a "target": Prove it, Regence. They were not selected to be investigated for no reason, there IS indeed probable cause to question TRG's entire operation, they are not working for their "beneficiaries" (insureds). The question drills down to:"Quo Bono"? Tracing the flow from collection of health benefit dollar forward is quickly showing us where the waste and profiteering truly resides.

Regence is currently one of several insurers being investigated by Congress http://www.thelundreport.org/resource/congress_look_at_executive_pay_inc.... In 2008, CEO Mark Ganz earned $1.8 million from the Regence plans in Oregon and Washington, including bonuses. He receives additional compensation because he is the titular head of Regence in Idaho. Regence manager Ms. Hult expressed wonder as to why protesters would target Regence because it is a "non-profit." As the other commenter pointed out, the company is a "not-for-profit" which means basically that all the money it collects and spends comes from premiums paid by enrollees. The company functions primarily as a financial institution and its compensation structure is more akin to banks and bank conglomerates...million dollar salaries and bonuses at the top; modest wages at the bottom. Premium dollars are invested in realestate and to a degree in stocks and bonds. Earnings from such investments during the recent boom were not translated in any way into premium reductions, although they were earned from premium dollars.