DIVESTMENT CAMPAIGN FOR HEALTH CARE investigates holdings by TIAA-CREF and urges divestment from health insurance companies

By Sandra Fox

Healthcare-NOW, the national grassroots organization for single-payer healthcare, together with Physicians for a National Health Program, began a committee in 2010 to look at divestment from for-profit health insurance companies. We called ourselves the Divestment Campaign for Health Care.

As a member of the committee and a participant in TIAA-CREF funds, the nation’s largest pension fund that offers retirement options to academic (including medical centers) and religious organizations, I decided to investigate their holdings in the “socially responsible” stock option called “CREF-Social Choice.” As a stakeholder, I wanted to make sure that health insurance companies were not included in this fund.

Upon reviewing the 2010 Audited Schedules of Investments for the fund, I was very disturbed to discover that CREF-Social Choice included holdings in Aetna, CIGNA, Coventry Health Care, Humana, and WellPoint.

According to their Summary Prospectus the five “social criteria” TIAA-CREF reports using to decide on their socially responsible holdings include:

1) Strong stewards of the environment;
2) devoted to serving local communities where they operate and to human rights and philanthropy;
3) committed to higher labor standards for their own employees and those in the supply chain;
4) dedicated to producing high-quality and safe products; and
5) managed in an exemplary and ethical manner.

I understood from reading the Prospectus that companies are screened and ranked by an outside vendor, namely MSCI Inc, and that TIAA-CREF invests in companies that “meet or exceed the screening criteria…,” though “…concerns in one area do not automatically eliminate a company from potential inclusion in the …Fund.”

I further understood from the Prospectus, that “Even if an investment is not excluded by MSCI’s criteria, Advisors has the option of excluding the investment if it decides the investment is inappropriate, though it is expected that Advisors will normally apply MSCI’s screening results.”

Thus began my inquiry directly with TIAA-CREF headquarters in NYC.
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Health Care Workers, Patients Lead Fight for Divestment from Corrupt Private Health Insurance Industry: Presbyterian Church and TIAA-CREF Hear Their Call

By Katie Robbins

In the midst of a fierce debate on the national level around the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the Divestment Campaign for Health Care made its official debut. Its stated mission: “to expose how the health insurance industry puts the need for profit above the needs of patients and to escalate public support for total removal of the private health insurance companies from our nation’s health care.”

Leading advocacy organizations dedicated to single-payer health care are committed to pursuing a divestment campaign from private health insurance companies in order to transform the treatment of health care as a commodity into a basic human right for all people in the U.S.

“We are responsible for our investments, and particularly as health care workers and patients, we see the immorality of the private health insurance companies as they deny payment for care in order to create huge profits for shareholders. Those who stand for a just and equitable health care system must recognize the corrupting force of the private health insurance industry on our political process that costs tens of thousands of lives every year in addition to being a huge financial drain,” states Dr. Rob Stone, M.D.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) became the first major institution to take steps towards divestment from private health insurance.  On July 7th, the church’s national assembly unanimously passed a resolution stating they will “evaluate the variance between church principles of universal access and affordability on the one hand and corporate objectives on the other. It will also assess the likelihood of significant change in corporate behavior.”

The resolution passed after moving testimony was delivered by Rev. Dr. Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos, the widow of the original author of the resolution, Rev. A. David Bos who passed away from a sudden case of pneumonia last year, stating before the committee:

“As he lay in the hospital, struggling with the oxygen mask provided to give his lungs the air they needed, he spoke haltingly what would be his last words on this earth: ‘How much will this cost?’  He died six days later. Three weeks after his death a representative from our health insurance company informed me in a telephone call that they rejected the claim to pay for my husband’s hospitalization and medical costs because of a ‘pre-existing condition.’”

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Presbyterian Church (USA) takes step toward divestment from for-profit health insurance companies

July 7th, 2012 – Today the Presbyterian Church (USA) took a step toward divestment from for-profit health insurance companies in the US by instructing the appropriate committee of the General Assembly to begin a process of information gathering. The Mission Through Responsible Investing Committee (MRTI) is instructed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to request information and explanations of health insurance companies. This information will focus especially on the insurers’ practices in regard to state and federal lobbying expenditures and political campaign contributions, government subsidies and profit margins, denials of claims, and top executives’ compensation packages. Other directives include a conversation with the Board of Pensions, the overseeing body that works with the health care provider, to ensure that the church’s health plan submits to the same standards that it asks of other insurers. Based on its analysis MRTI will evaluate the variance between church principles of universal access and affordability on the one hand and corporate objectives on the other. It will also assess the likelihood of significant change in corporate behavior.

In addition, the committee is to recommend measures to the appropriate Council of the church, including possible divestment from the health insurance companies, measures that will strengthen the integrity of the church’s practice. The relevant committees and councils are requested to report on their action to the General Assemblies of 2014 and 2016, with an eye to guiding individual Presbyterians, congregations and mid-councils, in relation to their own investment holdings in this major part of the economy.

Finally, all official bodies are encouraged to continue to support cost-effective health coverage for all through the single payer (or expanded Medicare) model common elsewhere in the developed world, and to support making health care affordable and transparent.
The overture for this step originated with the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, was joined by the Presbyteries of Albany, New York City, Long Island and West Jersey, and was approved overwhelmingly by the Committee on Health Issues of the General Assembly on July 3, 2012.

Johanna W.H.van Wijk-Bos
Dora Pierce Professor of Bible – Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
Minister member of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery

Contact: jovanwijk@gmail.com
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21-01On Instructing MRTI to Study and Report Corporate Practices of Health Insurance Companies and Possible Divestment of Same—From the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky.
Source:Presbytery Sponsor:
Mid-Kentucky Presbytery
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ASSEMBLY ACTION
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:
Approve as Amended

Voice Vote
Final Text:
In response to Item 21-01, that the 220th General Assembly (2012) approve the following alternate recommendation:

“1. The MRTI Committee is instructed to request information and explanations of health insurance company policy and practice on: state and federal lobbying expenditures and political/campaign contributions, government subsidies and profit margins related to provisions of the healthcare ‘reform’ legislation, aggregate data on increases in premiums and deductibles over the past ten years, categories and percentages of claims denied, and percentages of profits used in compensating top executives in comparison with return to shareholders.
“2. The MRTI Committee is instructed to be in conversation with the PC(USA) Board of Pensions to ensure the PC(USA) health plan submits to the same standards that PC(USA), through MRTI, asks of other insurers.

“3. Based on this corporate engagement and analysis, a summary of which shall be posted, MRTI is asked to evaluate the variance between church principles of universal access and affordability and corporate objectives, to assess the likelihood of significant change in corporate behavior, and to recommend to the GAMC and General Assembly measures, including possible divestment, that would strengthen the integrity of the church’s practice.
“4. The GAMC, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Board of Pensions, in turn, are requested to report on their actions (or request guidance) to the 221st and 222nd General Assembly (2014) and (2016), with an eye to guiding individual Presbyterians, congregations, and mid councils in relation to their own investment holdings in this major part of the economy.

“5. The Office of Public Witness and other Presbyterian bodies are encouraged to continue to support cost-effective health coverage for all through the single payer (or expanded Medicare) model common elsewhere in the developed world, and, to support making health care affordable and transparent.”