OP-ED | L’Affaire Vanguard: The Healthcare Governor Stumbles
Not long after Dannel Malloy was sworn in as Connecticut’s 88th governor two-and-a-half years ago, he became extraordinarily active on the healthcare front. Perhaps just as President George H.W. Bush wanted to be “the education president,” so too did Malloy want to be the healthcare governor?
Whatever one may think of his positions, Malloy has been aggressive on the healthcare front. He opposed SustiNet and a public option as soon as he took office. He announced a staggering $864 million plan to expand and renovate the struggling UConn Medical Center in Farmington. Despite intense opposition from those who prefer the status quo, Malloy tried and failed to “improve access” for Medicaid recipients by giving low-income patients funds to buy insurance on the healthcare exchanges created by Obamacare.
Time and again, he has sided with healthcare workers when they tangled with management. He signed an executive order allowing personal care attendants working under Medicare to unionize. He joined a picket line in Newington, where striking nursing home workers accused management of violating labor laws and trying to break the union.
Consistent with his place as a Democratic governor in a blue state, Malloy’s advocacy for labor has its place. The two above examples are harmless enough — perhaps even commendable. But a recent action he took in defense of labor could have serious consequences for a major Connecticut hospital.
At the urging of labor unions, Malloy vetoed a bill last week that would have made it easier for the non-profit Waterbury Hospital to be acquired by the Tennessee-based Vanguard Health Systems. Malloy claimed he was concerned about language in the bill that would give for-profit companies a seat on medical foundations. Cynics, however, were certain he’d caved to pressure from unions that were convinced the investor-owned Vanguard would take a dim view of organized labor.
Indeed, Republican Rep. Sean Williams was more blunt. Williams, whose district includes some Waterbury suburbs, said Malloy “has pulled the rug out from under a lot of people . . . for the simple sake of pleasing big labor special interests.” Williams has called for a special legislative session to override Malloy’s veto, but no one really expects that to happen.
Many in the greater Waterbury community, including a Waterbury Hospital employee who recently penned a letter to the editor of the Republican American newspaper, are convinced that the struggling critical-care facility might close if the Vanguard deal isn’t approved.
And Waterbury, like most other hospitals in the state, is reeling from the $550 million in aid cuts Malloy has made. The hospital recently announced 83 job reductions, in part because of projected cuts of more than $10 million in federal and state aid for uncompensated care over the next two years.
Other hospitals are reeling, too. Tiny Sharon Hospital, which was on the verge of closing 12 years ago when it successfully made the state’s first conversion from nonprofit to for-profit, is sweating over more than $2 million in cuts and laid off 26 workers last year. New Milford and Danbury hospitals announced last week they’re eliminating a combined 166 positions.
Malloy and his chief budget director Ben Barnes have said hospitals could save money by re-evaluating executive compensation. Perhaps the Malloy administration should take a look at their own payroll before lecturing the rest of us. Dr. Frank M. Torti, UConn’s new medical school dean, is pulling down $780,000 a year, with another $150,000 in incentives.
Malloy has often said one of his top priorities is to grow jobs and make Connecticut more economically competitive, but at this point you’d have to question either his motives or his methods. The governor has showered hundreds of millions in cash (some of it borrowed) and tax breaks on companies such as Bridgewater and Jackson Laboratories (whose CEO is an old friend of Torti’s), while cutting aid to hospitals that are shedding workers faster than you can say, “the world’s largest hedge fund.”
As for being the healthcare governor, Malloy can forget it. The greatest beneficiaries of his policies are government-run university hospitals, labor unions, and favored corporations. The likely result will be shuttered healthcare facilities and more job losses — a toxic mix as he heads into re-election mode.