They met in the Blue Cross Blue Shield board room, on the 8th floor of the old Sears building in the Fenway, and Andrew Dreyfus, the current and only non-gazillionaire Blue Cross CEO we know of, was channeling Marlon Brando as he made his board of directors an offer they couldn't refuse.
Give up your salaries, he suggested, and maybe, just maybe, the people -- give him credit: he didn't say rabble -- will pipe down enough so that we can have a more important conversation about the real causes behind spiraling health care costs.
They agreed unanimously to do so. Just like they had agreed unanimously to give Dreyfus's predecessor, Cleve Killingsworth, a big wet kiss worth $11 million to leave the state's biggest insurer after he ran the non-profit deeper into the red.
It was that previous unanimous vote, done quietly behind closed doors, that led to this more painful (for the board) unanimous vote done in private but proclaimed publicly in an effort to appease the rest of us holding the torches and pitchforks.
All but one of the board's 18 members were either in the room or on speaker phone, and the other one, Bentley College president Gloria Larson, was briefed by Dreyfus before the meeting and gave her blessings, Dreyfus said.
Presumably those on the phone could have put their free hand over the mouthpiece and uttered something unprintable.
But Dreyfus insisted that everybody on the board took the idea of giving up their salaries like an adult.
Meaning they all did the math in their heads and wondered how in God's name they're going to make the nut for the house on the Vineyard or pay their kid's tuition at BC.
I mean, how would you react if you're making anywhere up to 89 grand a year -- for part-time work! -- and, poof, it's gone, just like that?
Andrew Dreyfus was sadly resigned to the fact that unless the BCBS board took the hit, the public would see them only as the BS board.
"I'm proud of them," Dreyfus said, sitting in the office of Boston Globe editor Martin Baron, explaining why and how he got the Blue Cross board to give up their pay.
Lest we shameless self-promoters in the media take credit for this, Dreyfus said it was Attorney General Martha Coakley who had been pushing Blue Cross to this inevitability for at least 18 months.
Dreyfus was candid enough to admit that by asking the board to give up their pay he was merely beating Coakley to the punch. While the newspapers and TV and radio have been full of headlines and outrage the past week, Dreyfus said he fully expected Coakley to ask the board to be uncompensated. No doubt the media attention pushed the envelope way across the rectangular table the board was sitting around on the 8th floor of the Landmark Center.
Dreyfus said Coakley thinks the non-profit Blue Cross spends too much on its executive and board compensation packages. In fact, Coakley has told Blue Cross she doesn't think non-profit boards should be paid at all.
What a difference a year makes. If the AG had been this in tune with the public 14 months ago, we'd be calling her Senator Coakley.
What a difference a day makes. On Monday, one of the board members, Bobby Haynes, the AFL-CIO president, was comparing the $72,000 he makes for sitting on the board to pennies in Blue Cross's $13 billion in revenues.
That's a lot of pennies. More than 7 million of them in Haynes' case. The whole board is paid 100 million pennies a year.
Dreyfus is the first to admit that getting the board to forego the dough is the easy part. The hard part, he said, is getting health care costs down, and while nobody wants to hear it, he says, the $27 million paid out ot Killingsworth and his predecessor, not to mention the $1 million paid to the board, has little if anything to do with skyrocketing premiums and runaway health costs.
"We need to have a real conversation on what's really driving spiraling health costs, but we can't have that conversation until the compensation issue is taken off the table," Dreyfus said.
That conversation, probably to be overseen by Coakley in her role as the check on non-profits, will try to sort out the inherent contradiction of Blue Cross being a non-profit that has to operate like a business.
Dreyfus wouldn't rule out future boards being paid, but he doubted it.
Dreyfus' gesture to suspend pay for the board was aimed at the 3 million Blue Cross members and the wider, enraged general public. Besides approving Killingsworth's golden parachute, the board handed Killingsworth's predecessor, William Van Faasen, an even sweeter kiss goodbye, one worth $16 million.
By the way, Van Faasen was sitting right next to Dreyfus at the meeting as the board fell on its sword.
Poor Dreyfus. He's doing all the dirty work, and Bill Van Faasen is sitting on all the gold.
Compared to Killingsworth and Van Faasen, Dreyfus is getting paid off in the dark. He makes $800,000 a year and said he will not get a severance or retirement package anywhere near that of Killingsworth and Van Faasen.
He said issues like chronic illness and other "real issues drive rising premiums" but he knows why the public was outraged by the compensation packages, especially in this economic climate.
"I get it. I want a new beginning," Dreyfus said. "I thought I sent that message with my own compensation package, but I realize that was insufficient."
But he saw where the conversation was going and quickly added, "Eight hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. It's more money than I ever thought I'd make in my life."
Andrew Dreyfus was asked if his schoolteacher wife thinks he is overpaid.
"She does," he said.
Point of order, Mr. Chairman. I hereby nominate his wife to the board of directors of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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