It’s Politics: More Dirt and Ironing in the AB 52 Battle

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In these pages last week, we looked at recent attack ads against Sen. Ed Hernandez over his position on Assembly Bill 52, a bill that would mandate state regulation of health insurance rates.

We talked to Consumer Watchdog, the group that paid for the television ads and is demanding Hernandez step down from his chair of the Senate Health Committee over what they cite as a conflict of interest.

Hernandez, who objected to provisions of the bill, rents office space in Baldwin Park to insurance giant Kaiser Permanente, which fought the measure.

Consumer Watchdog suggests Hernandez blocked the bill to please Kaiser, from which he counts income, while Hernandez charged Consumer Watchdog with harboring its own financial motivations.

The advocacy group, which sues on behalf of consumers over insurance rate hikes, stands to profit millions of dollars in intervenor fees if the bill is passed, Hernandez charged.

We also spoke with Democratic consultant Steven Maviglio, who called Consumer Watchdog an illegitimate outfit that refuses to disclose how they spend their money or how they are funded.

A newsletter circulated in the Capitol pointed out that we don't mention who pays Maviglio "although he has spent much of this year taking up S.B. 703 (Hernandez), sponsored by the Local Health Plans of California."

Maviglio acknowledged in a subsequent interview that he had worked for the LHPC, but insisted his "dislike for Consumer Watchdog goes back multiple years when the they did their best to defeat the governor's and Assembly's health care bill, and then when they tried to defeat the Obama health care bill."

He said the extent of his work for LHPC amounted to writing a few press releases.

"Unlike Consumer Watchdog," he quipped, "I'll tell you who hired me."

He pointed out Friday that he is no longer on retainer for LHPC.

"There's no conflict there; I've spent most of my life fighting for health care reform, and just hate to see a fraud 'consumer' group like Consumer Watchdog at work," he said, linking to a piece he wrote about the group in 2008, before Hernandez's Senate Bill 703 existed.

Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, fed us the latest issue of health care industry trade, "Payers and Providers," in which Hernandez gets called out for other "troubling ties" to A.B. 52 foes.

The publication reports Hernandez received nearly $29,000 in campaign contributions this year from "a variety of health plans and political action committees" including the California Hospital Association, California Association of Health Plans and the California Medical Association.

And to add to the mix – both A.B. 52 author Rep. Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones issued statements Friday defending Hernandez against his critics.

"(I) know first-hand that Senator Ed Hernandez did not intend to demean or be insensitive to anyone," Jones said in response to the ad showing Hernandez in what appears to be total disregard for a constituent."

Clearly, Maviglio reasoned, "the bill's main proponents are trying to distance themselves from the sleazy tactics and ads of Consumer Watchdog."

Contact the author at: [email protected] 626-962-8811, ext. 4444

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