If you're wondering why health care costs are going sky high, one reason may be the multimillion-dollar skyboxes that two of the Bay Area's biggest "not-for-profit" insurers have bought at the 49ers' new stadium.
Blue Shield of California and Dignity Health each own Levi's Stadium luxury suites, which go for at least $2.5 million apiece.
Dignity, the San Francisco outfit formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, is also the Niners' exclusive health-industry sponsor. It's spending big time to advertise in and around the new Santa Clara stadium as well as on game broadcasts. There's even a "Dignity Health Plaza" at one corner of the $1.2 billion stadium.
"It's scandalous that two not-for-profit health care companies that are exempt from state taxes waste millions of dollars on luxury skyboxes rather than putting those charitable dollars toward patient care or lower premiums," said Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog, the group behind Proposition 45 on the November ballot – an initiative that would require California health care companies to get approval from the state insurance commissioner for rate increases.
Dignity officials said in a statement that they were "proud to be the official health care partner of the San Francisco 49ers." They noted that the company "is sponsoring the first-aid clinics located throughout the facility and will be hosting several special health and wellness events throughout the season."
The statement added that "in today's highly competitive health care market, the sponsorships also provide positive visibility and recognition for the Dignity Health brand and the services we provide."
In the meantime, Prop. 45 proponents – with TV cameras in tow – showed up Thursday outside Blue Shield's San Francisco headquarters with a tongue-in-cheek demand from 22,000 customers for tickets to Niners games.
The Prop. 45 folks also tried to buy advertising at Sunday's game on the Jumbotron at Levi's Stadium to tie Blue Shield's skybox to "excessive premiums" and tell fans that the health insurer "has a better view than you."
The Niners rejected the ad.
"We don't sell individual ad space," said team spokesman Bob Lange, telling us that it's strictly reserved for their media partners.
However, Sheri Sadler, an ad buyer for the Prop. 45 campaign, said she was told by an ad rep in an e-mail that "the 49ers are a little reluctant to promote one side or the other (of a political issue) so as not to alienate fans."