Democrat Gretchen Whitmer beat Republican Bill Schuette last week in the Michigan gubernatorial election. Whitmer won the Democratic primary in August against two major rivals: Shri Thanedar, a fake progressive grifter, and Abdul El-Sayed, who campaigned on a Bernie Sanders-style platform, backing a public option for internet access and single-payer healthcare. In February, we reported that Whitmer’s campaign benefitted from a letter sent by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, encouraging its employees to support Whitmer by donating to their PAC.
This act of generosity appears to have paid off, at least for those at the top. Last week, Whitmer appointed BCBS of Michigan CEO Dan Loepp to her transition team. Loepp was, according to Whitmer herself, the first person to suggest she should get into politics. Whitmer’s father was CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield from 1988 to 2006, when Loepp succeeded him. BCBS of Michigan raised more cash from its employees, at one single fundraising event, for Whitmer than any candidate for governor in the past decade, according to the Detroit Metro Times; which was also “three times the amount of Blue Cross PAC’s largest contribution this election cycle.”
After Whitmer was criticized for Loepp’s hiring—including by the Democratic Socialists of America’s Detroit chapter—Whitmer defended the appointment, telling Deadline Detroit that Loepp “will serve alongside medical professionals like Dr. Joe Schwarz and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to help provide critical experience and insights to inform a policy agenda that expands access to quality, affordable health care for everyone in Michigan.” (Splinter reached out to the Whitmer campaign for comment and will update if we receive a response.)
In a statement perhaps not entirely appreciated by the Whitmer team, former local politician and Whitmer supporter Bob Ficano also told the site: “Let’s face it—her father was president of Blue Cross. Expecting that she would completely disassociate from it is unrealistic too.” Face it! You have to appoint a guy from your dad’s company when you become governor; everyone knows this. (Ficano was previously embroiled in his own corruption scandal.)
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Loepp received a record salary of $13 million last year. Crain’s Detroit reported earlier this year that he was the “highest-paid executive on Crain’s list of top-paid nonprofit executives” compared to 2015, when he was paid a measly $9 million. The median income in Michigan is $54,909, and 14.2 percent of the population is in poverty.
The Detroit DSA launched a petition in response to Loepp’s appointment, describing it as “unacceptable” and noting that Loepp “oversees a company that makes its money by denying Michiganders vital services.” William Toms, an organizer with the nonprofit Michigan for Single Payer Healthcare, told Splinter:
Dan Loepp is on Gretchen Whitmer’s transfer team to protect Blue Cross Blue Shield, not the hundreds of thousands of uninsured and under-insured Michiganders this campaign was elected to fight for.
If the Whitmer administration wants to prove their independence from big insurance industry donors, they should remove Dan Loepp, and fight for the 85% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans who now support Medicare for All.
There are two major reasons this appointment sucks. First, it indicates that Whitmer’s policy preferences on healthcare are squarely in the “what works for insurance companies” camp—which is very different from “what works best for patients”—and ensures that the advice she’ll get on such matters will reflect those interests, too. If she wasn’t already convinced that single-payer is too darn scary and that preserving a system predicated on allowing every corporate player to profit is vital, we can’t expect she’ll hear much else from Loepp as he advises her on setting up her administration.
Second, it is absolute garbage politics. Whitmer was already battered with ads by her Republican opponent accusing her of being “bought and paid for” by Blue Cross—a ridiculous thing for a Republican to say, of course, as if they’d ever do anything to harm insurance company profits. Democrats will never win the trust of voters, nor will they deserve it, if they insist on cozying up to health insurance CEOs while everyone else struggles with higher premiums, deductibles, and copays. It also tells voters in no uncertain terms that their new governor will happily put health industry profits—which are already scandalously high—above the health and lives of the people who supported her in the first place.