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Published: Tuesday, 1/16/2001

A politician's insurance policy

Anyone who's ever been dunned repeatedly for medical bills that have been brushed off by an insurance company undoubtedly will see the outrage inherent in a new exercise in political hypocrisy in the state of Michigan.

Gov. John Engler has vetoed a bill requiring insurance companies and HMOs to pay health-care providers' claims within 45 days, or face a 12 percent interest penalty. At the same time, the governor supports pending legislation to allow those same insurance companies to form political action committees, presumably to funnel campaign contributions to him.

Given the lobbying power of the insurance industry, passage of the pay-now or pay-later mandate by the conservative Michigan legislature was no mean feat. But lawmakers were persuaded by reports of physicians and other providers going broke because insurance companies refuse payment for unconscionable periods so they can hold onto the money longer.

Veto of the measure amounts to protecting the insurance companies at the expense of Michigan's medical business community. And Mr. Engler, in supporting the PAC bill, is just twisting the knife by making it easier for his grateful benefactors to respond with campaign contributions.

Allowing insurance PACs may simply be fair to the industry, but, as one campaign watchdog said, such groups, with their misleading names, may serve more to shield individual companies from disclosure of political activities than to promote the kind of openness the public deserves.

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