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Boston Capital

A political health worry

By Steven Syre
Globe Columnist / June 8, 2010

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Here’s a problem for every Massachusetts politician who wants to get the spiraling cost of health care under control: Constituents may have a different point of view.

The latest edition of an annual health care poll conducted by Mass Insight suggests most people don’t find the price they pay for health coverage to be a serious problem. The poll, which will be officially released next week, also shows a large majority of people don’t want to give up anything when it comes to health coverage or the freedom to choose whom they see for medical help.

“While there’s increasing concern about costs, the majority of people still don’t see health premiums and prescription drug costs as enough of a burden to cause them to support reforms that might change their habits,’’ said William Guenther, president of Mass Insight, a public policy research and consulting firm in Boston.

About one in every three people surveyed in April described health care premiums as a serious problem and many of them — 21 percent of the 500 people questioned by phone — described the financial burden as “very big.’’

But that leaves two out of every three people surveyed who considered health care costs to be less pressing. One in every four said health insurance premiums were “not a burden at all.’’

A majority of people polled said they disapproved of limiting coverage for high-cost and experimental treatments as well as policies that limit coverage for prescription drugs. A whopping 80 percent were against limiting consumer choice of doctors and hospitals.

Most survey respondents had opposed the same restrictions in the past two years, but the percentages of people against each of those ideas increased in April.

Fifty-six percent said they did not believe state government had a strategy to keep the health care system financially stable in the latest poll. But about the same percentage of respondents have answered that question the same way for the past seven years.

Asked whom they trust most to fix the health care system in Massachusetts, 17 percent picked Governor Deval Patrick from a list of options. Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, the state Legislature, and Attorney General Martha Coakley were each selected by 13 percent. The big winner: None of the above, the choice of 20 percent of those polled.

. . .

Genzyme Corp., in the midst of a proxy battle with activist investor Carl Icahn, nominated a new director for its board yesterday.

The Cambridge biotech company, hurt by serious manufacturing problems at its Allston plant, nominated retired Amgen executive Dennis Fenton as a director. Fenton, 58, had been Amgen’s top executive for operations when he retired in 2008.

Genzyme recently promised to recruit a new director with operational experience in response to criticism about the company’s management of the manufacturing problem initially caused by a virus. Ralph Whitworth, another activist investor who recently joined the Genzyme board and pressed for the additional director, said Fenton would “contribute enormously’’ to the company.

All 10 of Genzyme’s current board members will stand for reelection at the company’s annual meeting June 16. Icahn, who has lambasted Genzyme’s management for its handling of the manufacturing mess, has nominated himself and three other candidates for board seats.

. . .

Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc. is trying to raise as much as $40 million in a new stock offering to help repay the last of the money it received in the federal bank bailout program. The company said it had received approval from the US Treasury and Federal Reserve to redeem $104 million worth of securities issued to the government in 2008. Boston Private, one of 11 Massachusetts banking companies to receive money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, originally took $154 million and has repaid part of the total. Five other Massachusetts banks still owe the government money.

Boston Private stock traded as high as $30 per share in 2007 but plunged in the banking crisis and closed yesterday at $6.26. The company has not disclosed how many shares it would sell in the new offering, but analyst Gerard Cassidy of RBC Capital Markets estimated the company would offer about 6 million shares.

Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at syre@globe.com.