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Blue Cross has power of numbers.

Blue Cross Has Power Of Numbers

On any normal day of the state legislative session at the state Capitol, you will find a half-dozen to 10 reporters and columnists from each of the warring statewide newspapers.

The only company that might have more representatives in the building would be Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas, which has more depth in lobbying than the Razorbacks have on the basketball court.

The "Blues," as they are called, can put on a full-court press and keep the troops fresh.

They have a full dozen registered lobbyists, rivaled only by the Arkansas Power and Light Company, which has nine. Interesting, isn't it, that the state's lobbying leaders would be a non-profit health services company and a regulated utility?

The "Blues" depend on covering the waterfront, but they are steadily growing more savvy and are fast-rising as a lobbying force in the state. They're nearly up there with the Poultry Federation, the state Chamber of Commerce, AP&L and Stephens Inc.

I guess that is a compliment.

Not too long ago, Blue Cross was:

* Embarrassing legislators by listing them as gift recipients on lobbyist expense forms when legislators had not been aware that what Blue Cross had done for them - a golf tournament entry fee, for example - was worth more than $25, the itemization threshold.

* Offending legislators by relying on media advertising encouraging people to call legislators, a last-ditch effort usually not needed by the lobbyists who know where to put their money and how to work an issue.

* Being ridiculed by other lobbyists for arming its Capitol hallway agents with cellular telephones for constant communication with the home base, a technological display thought to be pretentious, though it is now practiced more widely. A vibrating pager, hooked to one's belt and hidden by one's suit coat, is more discreet.

* Sending out letters encouraging a vote for state Sen. Knox Nelson in his epic battle with Sen. Jay Bradford.

The latter did Blue Cross no good with Bradford, though Nelson surely appreciates it in his voter-aided retirement.

But it did reflect a growing understanding by Blue Cross of the heart of legislative influence, which is to contribute money to campaigns and become especially cozy with legislators who sit on the committees that consider bills of special interest.

Nelson was on the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee, as are all senior powerhouses in the Senate, and that happens to be the committee where most, but not all, of Blue Cross' business is conducted. The other committee of occasional interest to Blue Cross is the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. Nelson was the chairman.

As regarded Nelson-Bradford, it was better for Blue Cross to invest in Nelson on the chance that he would be back than get in bed with a challenger who could not yet qualify, by seniority, for a berth on the Insurance and Commerce Committee. When Nelson leaned on Blue Cross for a big mailing, the "Blues" really had no choice.

With Nelson out, Sen. Nick Wilson of Pocahontas has jumped to the Insurance and Commerce Committee, joining the other six most-senior members - Max Howell of Jacksonville, Clarence Bell of Parkin, Bill Moore of El Dorado, Bud Canada of Hot Springs, Jerry Bookout of Jonesboro and Jerry Jewell of Little Rock.

A little bill to harm Health Maintenance Organizations, a growing system of alternative and cost-curbing health care, was passed by the Senate the other day. It was a pharmacists' bill, providing that HMOs could not restrict the pharmacists to whom patients could be referred.

Two elements of the bill were especially interesting:

* The sponsors were all seven members of the Insurance and Commerce Committee, meaning it was a sure bet for a do-pass recommendation (meaning, actually, that the committee had considered the bill privately).

* The bill contained a section providing that all HMOs that were "federally qualified" would be exempt from the restriction.

Only one HMO in the state is federally qualified, meaning it has paid money to be part of a federal auditing system that some HMO trade groups call outdated.

The exception was Blue Cross.

Most legislative observers believe the pharmacists exempted Blue Cross so that the company would not mobilize its lobbying horde in opposition to the bill.

Two years ago, Blue Cross led the fight to defeat a bill that would have more severely gutted HMOs.

The bill this year would do nothing more than give Blue Cross' HMO a competitive advantage over such competitors as the Health Advantage program of the Baptist Medical System, since all but Blue Cross would have to open up drug prescriptions to all comers, rather than only those pharmacists participating in cost-saving partnerships.

Last week, a group of social workers walked up to me at the state Capitol to tout a bill allowing health insurance plans to cover treatment by social workers just as they cover treatment by psychiatrists and psychologists.

The bill had come out of committee and would be voted on that day on the Senate floor, but the social workers said five lobbyists from Blue Cross were working the Senate hard in opposition to the measure at that very moment.

I was curious as to how the bill got to the Senate floor if Blue Cross was against it.

The social workers said it came out of the Public Health Committee, not the Insurance and Commerce Committee, where Blue Cross keeps the members in its hip pocket.

That explained it. The "Blues" were going into the full-court press after letting one slip by.

And, of course, the bill did not get through the Senate.

Blue Cross' new expertise in lobbying should not be analyzed without mentioning two other factors:

* Successful legislative lobbying is a full-time undertaking, not a 60-day routine every two years, and Blue Cross works year-round.

* Lobbying is not limited to the legislative branch. It helps to be friends with the governor. Bob Cabe, the vice president and general counsel for Blue Cross, is the husband of Gloria Cabe, the campaign manager for Gov. Bill Clinton. The governor recently leased a little office in the Blue Cross building for storing some of his important papers.

Blue Cross just about has state government surrounded.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas registered lobbyists
Author:Brummett, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 18, 1991
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