Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The S.E.C. Gets Involved

The Securities and Exchange Commission has gotten involved in the ongoing health care debate, and is bringing shareholders along with them. Robert Pear at The New York Times reports:

The Securities and Exchange Commission, shifting its position, has told companies they must allow shareholders to vote on a proposal for universal health insurance coverage.

Shareholders, including religious groups and labor unions, have offered the proposal in an effort to draw the nation’s largest corporations deeper into a debate over the future of health care, fast emerging as one of the most important issue in domestic policy.

The S.E.C. has told Boeing, General Motors, United Technologies, Wendy’s International and Xcel Energy over the last several months that they may not omit the health care proposal from their proxy materials.

This move has been cause for surprise at many corporations, especially since the SEC allowed the exclusion of these materials in the past. Reactions have been varied. Opponents include Boeing and Reynolds American while others such as General Electric have adopted universal coverage as a principle. Many more are, or have been, negotiating with their shareholders in an attempt to find a workable middle ground. IBM and Wal-Mart are included in that number.

"We are working for a national policy that provides universal access to health care, and we do hold more than 30,000 shares of General Electric stock," said Barbara Kraemer, a Roman Catholic nun who is national president of the School Sisters of St. Francis. "As we pursued the proposal with G. E., the company requested a dialogue in lieu of the shareholder resolution, so we withdrew it. The dialogue was productive, resulting in G. E.’s public endorsement of the Institute of Medicine principles."

Labor unions and religious groups said they intended to broaden the proxy campaign by bringing in more pension plans next year. If the dialogue between companies and shareholders were to continue, as expected, it could help bridge the divide that has frustrated earlier efforts to cover the uninsured.

It seems that the conflicted nature of views on health care reform continues to hold sway when looked at from this angle. Mr. Pear offers several examples that show the array of self-interests at work in this strata of the health care crisis. From the fears of Reynolds American that funding for change would come out of their tobacco based business in the form of cigarette taxes, to the strange proxy battle that United Health (insurer of over 70 million people) engaged in recently, he covers the whole array.

It will be worth watching to see what comes out of the SEC in relation to this topic over the next several months. Whichever way they jump, it will have far reaching ramifications, especially after January 20 when a new President enters the Oval Office.

SOURCE: "S.E.C. Backs Health Care Balloting" 05/27/08
photo courtesy of takomabibelot, used according to its Creative Commons license

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