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Most Shocking Hospital Bill? Lobbying

Kevin Rennie

May 15, 2011

A class of plutocrats has arisen in the hospital business. This is the year to confront their extravagances.

Every Connecticut hospital relies on taxpayers for a large portion of their revenue through publicly financed health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. When funding formulas are changed, hospitals howl. Like many others, they are unhappy as Connecticut untangles some of its foolish spending policies.

The state's hospitals, all but one of which is a nonprofit organization, need to show they understand the imperative to change. A single large number demonstrates that hospitals are making self-indulgent spending decisions: $701,956. That's how much Jennifer Jackson, the head of the Connecticut Hospital Association, made in 2009, the most recent year the information is available.

According to CHA's federal filing, Jackson's compensation was derived from CHA and several of its affiliated organizations. For 18 hours of work a week for CHA, according to the mandatory disclosure, Jackson received $312,520. That's $333 an hour. Other CHA arms, profit and nonprofit, paid her an additional $389,436 in that year of deep recession. Remember, CHA did not stitch a wound, repair a bone or empty a bedpan. It did, however, collect $7,175,404 in dues from its members.

Wait, there's more. CHA deploys a small army of lobbyists at the Capitol to make sure the money keeps flowing. Most of its hospital members have their own lobbyists, but CHA needs to be seen to justify the river of dough hospitals pay it.

CHA pays its vice president for government relations, James Iacobellis, $277,648 a year to lobby for it. That does not include the value of that low-digit license plate he snagged but declined to discuss as his close allies in the Rell administration headed for the door a few months ago. At those rates, it's good to show outward signs of insiderdom. Seven other CHA employees, including Jackson, are registered as state lobbyists.

Not done yet. Last year, CHA also paid $126,924 to outside lobbying firms to assist it at the Capitol. That was in addition to the hundreds of thousands hospitals spend on their own lobbyists. Some hospitals have another layer of representatives. The state's four Roman Catholic hospitals, which have individual lobbyists, also pay someone to represent their collective interests in state government.

Hold on. There's more. In 2009, CHA handed over $120,000 to former Clinton aide Douglas Sosnik to lobby for it in Washington. His task is to make CHA officials feel like they are in the game when they hitch up the wagon and head for Washington. Now and then, he parachutes into CHA's Wallingford office and tells the rubes about the lay of the land in the big city. He gives a memorable performance that can include feet perched on the table.

Individual hospitals belong to the American Hospital Association, so it seems duplicative for CHA to have its own Washington lobbyist. It can be a burden for a hospital to belong to CHA. When beleaguered Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008, one of its significant creditors was CHA.

Hospitals enjoy an advantage in government that many other interests do not. Their local legislators are usually eager to be advocates for the nonprofit institutions. Communities are attached to their local hospitals even as advances in medicine have left some of them unable to provide the full array of care they once did.

Few other interests can draw upon the deep well of political support available to hospitals. Still, a big business and that's what it is that depends on taxpayer funding insists on spending $7 million a year on an organization that in these times they could do without.

CHA declared its opposition to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal last month and claimed changes in funding "will hurt patients and communities and risk unraveling the safety net." Those words have no meaning when cast in the glow of Jennifer Jackson's $701,956.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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