Interesting report from our friends at the Virginia Organizing Project, as “Coventry Execs Ignore Call for Greater Transparency and Accountability on Corporate Spending for Political Campaigns.” See the press release on the “flip.” Also, Click here for photos.
McLean, VA – Consumer shareholders of Coventry Health Care, a major national health insurance company that serves 5 million people in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and 21 other states, attended the company’s annual meeting at the Tyson’s Corner Ritz Carlton on Thursday to urge executives to disclose their company’s direct and indirect spending on political campaigns.
Local activists from Virginia Organizing, Health Care for America Now, Northern Virginia Labor Federation and the Virginia AFL-CIO were on hand inside and outside the shareholder meeting to demand greater transparency and accountability from Coventry officials. Several consumer shareholders, including Paula Neustatter of Fredericksburg, held proxies to go inside the shareholder meeting and speak in support of a shareholder proposal to disclose future monetary and non-monetary political contributions used to influence elections.
“We have to tell Coventry and other big insurance companies to stop trying to purchase our democracy as they did in the last election cycle. When corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence the election we not only lose our voices but our chance at affordable health care as well,” said Paula Neustatter, health care provider and Virginia Organizing member.
Despite having the proper credentials, Paula Neustatter and Joe Katz were blocked by Coventry staff from speaking during the comment period. When Neustatter attempted to speak on the resolution calling for greater transparency in the company’s political donations, the microphone was promptly whisked away by a Coventry employee determined to not allow her to speak.
“What happened in that shareholder meeting is that the executives realized that we have their number and plan on holding them accountable. The American people are not going to take this anymore. These big insurance CEOs cannot hide in corporate boardrooms anymore. We have a right to know how our health care system operates and where our health insurance premiums go,” said Virginia Organizing member Joe Katz.
“Pretty soon health care is going to be a right and not a privilege and that is the idea that frightens these CEOs the most. From inside the meeting room I could see the look of fear in the eyes of Coventry’s CEO when he heard citizens just outside the room chanting about the need for transparency and accountability,” added Katz.
Activists also called on Coventry to improve its Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) which determines how much premium money is spent on actual health care versus administrative costs, profit and political contributions. As shareholders met inside the conference room, protesters chanted “66 percent is not enough!” outside the door, calling attention to the 66 percent MLR that makes Coventry among the worst in the industry.
Coventry, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is one of the nation’s largest for-profit health insurance companies and a member of a trade group that in 2009 secretly contributed at least $86 million for ads run by third parties to oppose health care reform. The money was funneled through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which ran the attack ads while the insurers were claiming to support health reform.
Coventry and other insurers have resisted disclosure of political spending that would permit citizens and shareholders to make informed decisions, according to Health Care for America Now. The problem has grown since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling held that corporations may spend freely on election-related political activities. Companies that do so put their reputations – and their shareholders’ investments – at risk.