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NEWS RELEASE
May 18, 2004


CONTACT: Jerry Flanagan - 415-633-1320

The Chamber of Commerce Issues Misleading Press Release About Its Support of Health Care Cost Controls

Consumer Group Challenges Chamber President to a Public Debate
San Francisco - The Chamber of Commerce issued a misleading press release on Monday regarding its commitment "to make health care more accessible for Californians" by addressing cost drivers, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

In a letter sent today, FTCR's Jerry Flanagan challenged Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg to a televised public debate citing evidence that the Chamber's public statements are inconsistent with its opposition to key cost-control legislation. (Complete letter is available below).

"The Chamber claims that it supports efforts to rein in health care costs, but has opposed every major effort in the legislature this year. The Chamber claims that it supports universal health care, but is trying to kill a law designed to stabilize and increase access… You should agree to respond to these inconsistencies in a televised public debate because the business owners the Chamber purportedly represent deserve to hear what your priorities really are," wrote Jerry Flanagan in a letter sent today.

"We can only assume that the Chamber has opposed efforts to reign in out-of-control costs on behalf of its biggest supporters -insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other health care corporations who want to charge as much as they can without appropriate oversight. For too long, the Chamber has represented the biggest health care industries, not employers who are decimated by their profiteering and deserve relief."

Last week, FTCR called on the Chamber to divulge its plan to cover the uninsured given that while it is listed as a sponsor of "Cover the Uninsured Week" the Chamber is leading an effort to overturn a 2003 California law, SB 2, designed to provide health insurance to 1 million uninsured patients.

The referendum on SB 2, spearheaded by the Chamber, will appear on the November ballot.

The Chamber of Commerce's press release can be read at: http://calchamber.com/headlines/index.cfm?id=320&action=detail&navid=374

FTCR's letter:

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Allan Zaremberg, President
California Chamber of Commerce

RE: Patients Deserve a Public Debate On Health Care Reform

Dear Allan Zaremberg,

The Chamber of Commerce claims that it supports efforts to rein in health care costs, but has opposed every major effort in the legislature this year. The Chamber claims that it supports universal health care, but is trying to kill a law designed to stabilize and increase access.

We are still waiting for a response to our letter calling on the Chamber of Commerce to provide its plan to cover the uninsured given that while the Chamber is listed as a sponsor of the "Cover the Uninsured Week" it is leading efforts to overturn a 2003 California law, SB 2, designed to provide health insurance to 1 million uninsured patients.

Your lack of response is particularly disturbing given the Chamber's press release issued on Monday which states, "To make health care more accessible for Californians, we must address the cost drivers within the health care system… [T]he Chamber is committed to responsibly looking at the complex health care system to identify these cost drivers."

The issues of expanding access to health care and controlling costs deserve a thorough discussion. Therefore, I propose to provide California patients and business owners the opportunity to hear the full story by challenging you to an independently moderated and televised debate.

The need for such a public debate is clear given the ample evidence that the Chamber's public statements are inconsistent with its opposition to key cost control bills that could increase access to care:

Pharmaceuticals

The Chamber of Commerce has opposes legislation to provide access to safe and affordable prescriptions drugs reimported from Canada even though U.S. drugs sold there are 30-60% cheaper as a result of negotiated bulk discounts: AB 1957 (Frommer, Los Angeles), SB 1144 (Burton, San Francisco), SB 1149 (Ortiz, Sacramento).

The Chamber also opposes legislation to allow small business owners and individuals to take advantage of bulk prescription drug discounts by joining the California Public Employees Retirement System's (CalPERS) purchasing pool: AB 1958 (Frommer, Los Angeles).

Insurers

The California Chamber of Commerce opposed legislation requiring HMOs to justify their exorbitant overhead costs to the Insurance Commissioner even though insurance overhead and administrative costs were the fastest growing component of health care spending over the past three years: SB 1349 (Ortiz, Sacramento).

Hospitals

The Chamber of Commerce has yet to support legislation to allow large purchasers to choose which institutions in a hospital's corporate family they wish to do business with even though some hospitals charge dramatically higher rates for services than others: SB 1509 (Alpert, San Diego).

We can only assume that the Chamber has opposed efforts to rein in out-of-control costs on behalf of its biggest supporters -insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and other health care corporations who want to charge as much as they can without appropriate oversight. For too long, the Chamber has represented the biggest health care industries, not employers who are decimated by their profiteering and deserve relief.

The Chamber's advocacy -- to excuse the very cost increases that have led to unprecedented numbers of uninsured and underinsured Californians -- is inconsistent with its PR message.

You should agree to respond to these inconsistencies in a televised public debate because the business owners the Chamber purportedly represent deserve to hear what your priorities really are. Those hardest hit by cost increases -- small business owners and patients -- should be given the opportunity to prepare questions for you and I to ensure that their voices are heard.

Sincerely,

Jerry Flanagan

-End-

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a non-profit and non-partisan consumer advocacy group. For more information, visit us on the web at: http://www.CalHealthConsensus.org or http://www.consumerwatchdog.org

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