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Trio publicly crusaded against rising health costs

Trio publicly crusaded against rising health costs

Behind the $hield

By Christine McConville and Hillary Chabot

Thursday, March 3, 2011 –

Key members of the Blue Cross Blue Shield board that gave the nod to then-CEO Cleve Killingsworth’s controversial $11 million severance have been public advocates for trimming soaring health-care costs — even as they sat on a panel that quietly approved the departing chief’s golden parachute.

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President Paul Guzzi has crusaded to lower health-care costs in his day job representing the interests of local businesses, many of which struggle under the burden of rising premiums for their employee health plans.

“Advancing payment reform to bring health-care costs under control” is one of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s top policy agenda items, Guzzi said in a statement in January. Guzzi made $84,463 as the Blue Cross board chairman at the time of the Killingsworth vote.

Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO who made $72,700 as a Blue Cross board member in 2010, has championed health-care cost reduction for the thousands of union members he represents.

“Unions stand ready to be part of the solution to the health-care cost crisis in which we all find ourselves,” Haynes said in an AFL-CIO statement in January. “The only way to ensure we are part of the solution is to guarantee that we have a voice and meaningful role in how cost savings are achieved.”

Bentley University president Gloria Larson, who earned $76,400 as a Blue Cross board member last year, helped organize a confab of business, labor and political leaders in Ashland in January that addressed rising health-care costs. Those who planned to attend reportedly included two other Blue Cross board members — Haynes and former Suffolk District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II.

Yesterday, the votes of those and the other members of the Blue Cross Blue Shield board were a mystery, as the nonprofit refused to release the actual votes or attendance at the March 2010 meeting where Killingsworth’s farewell kiss got the nod. A Blue Cross spokesman said board members would not comment individually.

Attorney General Martha Coakley told the Herald yesterday that she will launch an investigation of the Killingsworth payout. Blue Cross has said it was obliged to pay out on a contractual agreement when Killingsworth resigned after the company posted $149 million in losses.

The 18 members of the board — none of whom returned calls from the Herald — are handsomely compensated, receiving pay ranging between $56,000 and $90,000 for attending just 26 meetings a year.

Those salaries are an outrage as Bay State residents grapple with their own sky-high medical bills, said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford).

“It’s symbolic and it feeds into why the public is angry about the cost of health care,” Montigny said. “Most people would be shocked to hear that these directors are making what is for many people a year’s salary.”

Montigny added he believes board members shouldn’t be getting paid at all.

“I think it’s pretty extraordinary to have payment on a nonprofit board,” he said. “Usually people are clamoring to get on those boards because it’s a public good, and it’s prestigious.”