Where’d the Money Go?

Times story overlooks insurer’s contributions

The New York Times today offers a dispatch on the health care debate from Maine, home of an endangered species: moderate Republican senators. The piece offers a solid look at the debate playing out among different constituencies to win the hearts and minds of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, whose votes may determine whether key features of the reform proposal—such as a “public option” that would compete with private health care insurers—survive. And it notes that while Snowe is so far the only Senate Republican to back a public option, Collins has “expressed reservations” about such a move. But it leaves out one interesting tidbit.

As the story notes, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the “dominant private insurer in the state.” In fact, according to a 2007 report about consolidation in the insurance industry by the American Medical Association, WellPoint, Inc., an affiliate of Blue Cross, has a 78 percent share of the combined HMO/PPO market in Maine.

What the story doesn’t note is that Blue Cross has been a major political donor to Collins. According to the Web site OpenSecrets.org, with total donations nearing $50,000, it has been the fifth-highest contributor to her campaign committees and leadership PACs over the course of her career. (The corporation’s contributions to Snowe have been much smaller.) And while Blue Cross hasn’t posted a white paper on reform to its Web site, it’s not much of a stretch to think it wouldn’t welcome competition, from a public option or any other source.

There’s nothing unusual in one of a state’s major companies making donations to its elected officials, of course, and Collins isn’t slavishly bound to her donors’ interests. (In fact, the story quotes one advocate who thinks the biggest influence on Collins’s vote may be Snowe’s.) But as the press tracks the health care debate, it should follow the money—and report what it finds—at every step.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.