August 27, 2013 — Health insurance companies have poured more than $550,000 into state and local elections in Oregon since the start of 2011, with over 40 percent of that money spent by Regence BlueCross BlueShield, which invested $236,000 in its preferred candidates and causes.
The Lund Report analyzed campaign finance transactions in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The analysis of the health insurance sector is the first in a series of articles that will appear in the coming weeks. The next article will focus on the pharmaceutical industry. Detailed information about these political donations was obtained from the Secretary of State’s website.
The Regence Oregon Political Action Committee overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates and spent considerable money propping up losing candidates, including $15,000 for Rep. Patrick Sheehan, R-Clackamas; $12,500 each for Rep. Matt Wand of Troutdale and Rep. Katie Eyre Brewer of Hillsboro; and $10,000 each for Steve Newgard of Gladstone and Joe Pishioneri of Springfield.
While not quite the kiss of death, Sen. Larry George of Sherwood, who accepted $10,000, was the only candidate in Regence’s top five to win his race. All together, Regence gave $59,000 to losing Republican candidates over the past three years in an attempt to shift the balance of power in Salem to the GOP. Instead, the Democrats regained control of the House while retaining the Senate.
Big Blue’s favorite Democrat was Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, who received $4,500.
While Monnes Anderson’s support from Regence is small compared to what was offered Republicans, other Democrats like Rep. Shemia Fagan of Clackamas, had to overcome Regence-backed opposition even as the insurer favored Monnes Anderson over Republican opponent Scott Hansen.
Hansen was supported by conservative business groups and the timber industry; he received relatively little support from the healthcare industry despite a career as a dentist. Monnes Anderson is a retired nurse and chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee.
Monnes Anderson was also a top candidate by LifeWise Health Plan, UnitedHealth Care and Health Net Health Plan, accepting a total of $18,000 total from the insurance industry.
During the session, it was Monnes Anderson’s vote that allowed Regence to hold off further attempts by Portland Democrats Sen. Chip Shields and Rep. Mitch Greenlick to increase transparency in the health insurance rate review process for individuals and small businesses.
The Republican George joined Monnes Anderson in stopping Shields’ reforms of the insurance industry, helping to kill HB 3160, which would have allowed insurers to be sued for fraud.
Shields, by contrast, accepted no money from the health insurance industry, and took in only $2,000 in the insurance sector overall, in $500 allotments from companies such as Aflac and Progressive Insurance.
ODS Health Plan, now Moda Health, was the second-largest contributor among health insurance companies, directing $80,100 through its affiliate, Health Services Group. The conglomerate gave $5,000 to Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, as well as $5,000 to losing Republican candidates Eyre Brewer, Wand and Rep. Shawn Lindsay of Hillsboro.
The Health Services Group also supported leading Democrats — $4,000 to House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Garrett of Lake Oswego and $3,000 to House Majority Leader Val Hoyle of Eugene.
Meanwhile both Kaiser Permanente and Providence Health System stayed out of partisan state politics and threw their political support on local causes in the Portland metro area.
Kaiser, either through its Permanente health system or its health plan, donated $78,500, including $25,000 to the pro-fluoride campaign and $20,000 to support a Portland Public Schools levy.
Providence, including its health system, health plan and Milwaukie hospital, donated $63,500 to local campaigns, including $20,000 for the Portland school levy; and $10,000 each for the failed fluoride campaign, a Beaverton school levy and Clackamas Community College.
Representatives of both companies earlier told The Lund Report that they are prohibited by their nonprofit status from supporting political candidates.
LifeWise was fifth among the health insurers, donating $38,000. Its top candidates were the Republican leadership, including former Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna of Sutherlin and Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli. Hanna took in $4,000 and Ferrioli, $3,000.
PacificSource Health Plan spent a total of $28,000, going against the insurance grain to spend more money on Democrats more than Republicans. Its top gift, $3,500, went to Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. But Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, was close behind, receiving $3,000 from PacificSource. Kruse is the ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee.
Health Net Health Plan gave $21,000, supporting Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem with $5,250; Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany with $2,000 and the House Democrats with $2,500.
UnitedHealth Care donated $11,000, with $1,500 for Monnes Anderson, Hanna and Kotek.
Christopher David Gray can be reached at [email protected].