Saturday, August 01, 2009


Ex HMSA executive addresses UH Law School students on social responsibility

by Larry Geller

I found that I was very disappointed after attending the “Panel on Corporate Social Responsibility” held at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law on Friday.

The panel, assembled by Prof. Will Weinstein, consisted of Alan Landon, Chairman and CEO of the Bank of Hawaii, and Jay Shidler, Founder and Managing Partner of The Shidler Group.

My disappointment was primarily with the missed opportunity to discuss the demonstrated disdain for basic social responsibility of the banking/financial and health insurance sectors with Mr. Landon, who also previously served as Chairman of the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA).

The bailed-out banking/financial sector is of course currently in the news, and Bank of Hawaii is an extremely profitable exemplar of that sector. Having the opportunity of a question at the end of the session, I asked about the prevalence of interest rates and fees amounting to usury by lenders, and the pathetically low rates of interest they return to their depositors. His response (paraphrase) was to blame irresponsible borrowers.

We missed the opportunity to discuss with an industry insider a topic raised by Bill Moyers: Why have we come to accept a predatory economy as normal in our society.

HMSA, like its counterparts on the continent, has not hesitated to deny medically necessary procedures and treatments (they define what is medically necessary), and has been successfully sued or challenged in quasi-judicial hearings before the Insurance Commissioner. In one case that comes to mind, if I recall correctly, they denied a PET scan to a patient that would have determined whether some questionable tissue was cancerous. The alternative for the patient was abdominal surgery, with the risks, pain, expense, and loss of work that would have come with it.

Fortunately for the patient, he was the husband of Dr. Arleen Jouxson-Meyers, also an attorney, who successfully challenged HMSA and won the right to have PET scans not only for her husband but for all of us. There are other examples, and stories of lives saved by legal action against HMSA or other insurers here.

Of course, you are familiar with Michael Moore’s Sicko and other documentary evidence of denials and recissions that expose the health insurance industry as among the least socially responsible of any I can think of. The Democracy Now (“They Dump the Sick to Satisfy Investors”: Insurance Exec Turned Whistleblower Wendell Potter Speaks Out Against Healthcare Industry) and Bill Moyers interviews with whistleblower Wendell Potter laid the ugly practices of the industry bare.

Moyers exposed, by airing congressional testimony, health insurance company refusal to stop the practice of recission, that is, cutting off insurance when an expensive, but often life-saving, procedure becomes necessary. This practice amounts to issuing a death sentence for those who were insured for years and expected that they would be taken care of.

[Long-time readers of this blog will remember the battle to extract the HMSA Foundation Executive Administrator from the office of state representative Bob Herkes, where he was working as an “intern” or “embedded lobbyist.” During that legislative session, oversight of HMSA premiums by the Insurance Commissioner was erased, with the help of amendments introduced by Rep. Herkes, and the backlash resulted in the banishment of these corporate “interns” from legislative offices.]

I’m disappointed that there was no opportunity to discuss some of this with Mr. Landon. The students and public could have learned something about corporate social responsibility in the real world. Death sentences issued by health insurers are hardly socially responsible, and Mr. Landon’s comments might have been enlightening.

Perhaps also, some budding law students might have been encouraged to choose the field of patient advocacy as a socially responsible option in the practice of law.

I hope that Prof. Weinstein might revisit the subject of corporate social responsibility in a future seminar and allow a broader and deeper discussion of this important topic.



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