Monday, July 09, 2007
This is a NON-PROFIT?
Moore takes on Capital BlueCross
By David Wenner / Patriot-News
Central Pennsylvania's Capital BlueCross walked right into the crosshairs of Michael Moore.
The controversial director of the documentary "Sicko" obtained a memo written by Barclay Fitzpatrick, Capital's vice president for corporate communications.
Moore gave the memo top billing on his Web site yesterday. His taunts at Capital soon spread across the Internet.
Of Fitzpatrick, Moore writes: "His job, it seems, was to go and watch 'Sicko,' observe the audience reaction, and then suggest a plan of action to deal with the movie."
Fitzpatrick wrote in the memo, "You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore's movie."
In previous films, Moore has gone after the auto industry and the federal government's reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In "Sicko," now playing nationwide, he takes on the health care industry.
"Sicko" recounts stories of people who were denied medical care by insurers. Moore shows former health insurance employees who say their goal was finding ways to deny claims. He ends with a call for a government-run health system.
But Fitzpatrick says Moore focused on exceptions rather than the norm, and called the movie one-sided and misleading. Often, the medical treatment being denied was experimental, he noted.
Moore challenged Capital yesterday on his Web site, calling for a debate involving "just me and your CEO openly debating the merits of a system that kills thousands of innocent Americans every year."
In an e-mailed statement, Capital spokesman Joe Butera said, "Like most health-care companies, we already were being asked about Michael Moore's movie before it came out. So our communications person decided to see it. He wrote a memo summarizing his personal opinions and impressions of the film."
Butera added, "What his memo doesn't say is the company's position on [Moore's] movie. So here it is: We think anything that addresses the complex subject of health care is overall a good thing because it is such an important issue for our nation."
Butera said neither CEO Anita Smith nor Fitzpatrick would comment further.
In his memo, Fitzpatrick chided the film for ignoring the main culprits of America's health care crisis, which he said have much to do with lifestyle factors including poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise.
Still, he concluded that the vast majority of moviegoers who see the film will "have their perceptions substantially affected" in a way that would harm the reputation of Capital and other health insurers. Capital should prepare employees to respond to questions from customers, friends, family and neighbors, he wrote.
Fitzpatrick suggested "the most successful strategy will not be in attacking the movie for its weaknesses or misperceptions, but in distancing ourselves and our brand from the groups and motivations he attacks, demonstrating the good that we do and achieve ... and in articulating our disappointment that he did not address the truly relevant issue of improving our health and wellness."
Butera said Capital isn't interested in a debate.
"We remain focused on our mission -- not on debating others. We will continue to work hard every day to fulfill our mission by delivering quality health care at an affordable cost," he wrote.
Fitzpatrick's memo pointed out Moore makes no distinction between for-profit insurers, which include many of the nation's best-known insurers, and non-profit plans such as Capital.
The for-profit plans, which in the Harrisburg area include Health America and Aetna, generate profits for stockholders. The non-profit Blues accumulate "reserves," which must benefit their customers, or serve a charitable purpose.
In 2005, Pennsylvania's four Blues plans agreed to contribute $1 billion toward the state's insurance program for the poor. The Blues have pointed out that most of their reserves are amassed through investments, and they aim to collect premiums that are roughly equal to what they pay toward medical expenses and overhead.
In an online chat, Moore noted that Capital has $795 million in reserves and that Smith's salary is "over $800,000 a year."
"If that is non-profit, I am sure a lot of people would be interested in working for that kind of pay. Where is all that money coming from?" Moore wrote.
Smith actually earned $1.2 million in 2006, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. Ken Melani of Highmark Inc. was the highest paid Blues CEO in the state, earning $3.2 million.