Gretchen Whitmer, the Obama-endorsed Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, is running on a healthcare ticket, defending Obamacare and attacking Republican Bill Schuette as a tool of Big Pharma. The only problem? One governor candidate has received more from Blue Cross Blue Shield than any other in the past ten years — and it isn’t Schuette. Worse, Whitmer’s father — then-CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, co-signed her mortgages in 1997 and 2001.
When asked to comment about the donations and the help with the mortgages, Whitmer’s campaign went on the offensive.
“Let’s be clear, Bill Schuette is more than welcome to return the $137,500 he’s taken from Blue Cross Blue Shield over the course of his career, but we all know that will never happen because Schuette is a flaming hypocrite who doesn’t give a rip about protecting coverage for people with cancer, diabetes, and autism,” Nicole Simmons, Whitmer’s press secretary, told PJ Media Friday.
“After all, Schuette is the one who filed nine lawsuits to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would rip health care away from 680,000 Michiganders and gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” Simmons added. “If Schuette wins this race, people who received coverage under Medicaid expansion and people with pre-existing conditions can kiss their health care goodbye.”
While Schuette has opposed Obamacare — filing lawsuits against the legislation as Michigan attorney general — he has repeatedly stated that he supports keeping coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Indeed, his support for this coverage dates back to 2012, and even before his opposition to Obamacare. He doesn’t just support this coverage, however, he voted for it — four times!
Schuette’s first vote for coverage for people with pre-existing conditions came in 1996 in the Michigan State Senate, when he voted to prohibit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) from excluding or limiting coverage for a pre-existing condition for certain groups. He voted for an even broader version of that bill in 1999, and voted for protection for pre-existing conditions with regard to Medicare recipients in 2002.
Whitmer’s real issue seems to be the money Schuette has received from BCBSM, but her hypocrisy on that reeks to high heaven.
In March, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s PAC raised nearly $145,000 for her campaign, the most it has given a gubernatorial candidate in ten years, Metro Times reported. Questions remain as to whether Blue Cross Blue Shield played any role in bankrolling the pro-Whitmer group Build a Better Michigan, which aired $1.8 million in ads on her behalf. This month, the Whitmer campaign received another $68,000 from BCBSM.
The Democrat seems to have earned all this support by voting “yes” in 2013 to release attorney general oversight on the rate-setting for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Medigap insurance plans. Schuette was attorney general and not in the position to vote on this bill, but he nevertheless came out against it, arguing that when the Medigap freeze ended, seniors would face higher premiums.
In 2004, Whitmer also voted for two bills backed by Blue Cross Blue Shield that critics feared would increase insurance costs, lead to more uninsured residents, and give BCBSM an even more dominant role in the Michigan health care market.
Former Detroit health director and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed attacked Whitmer as being “bought off” by Blue Cross Blue Shield, a charge that Shuette himself echoed in a recent ad.
Whitmer’s debt to Blue Cross runs even deeper than previously reported, however. Her father, Richard Whitmer, served as president and CEO of BCBSM between 1988 and 2006. During that time, he helped his daughter buy two houses, and co-signed the mortgages with her.
In March 1997, when Gretchen Whitmer was 26, she purchased property at 840 Cowley in East Lansing for $129,100.
That same month, Gretchen Whitmer and her father took out a $103,280 mortgage on that residence.
In July 2001, Gretchen Whitmer sold the residence at 840 Cowley for $199,900, more than $70,000 more than she and her father paid for it in 1997.
In August 2001, Gretchen Whitmer and her father Richard satisfied the $103,280 mortgage on the 840 Cowley residence.
In April 2003, Gretchen Whitmer and her then-husband Gary Shrewsbury bought the residence Whitmer currently lives in, for $531,000.
Richard Whitmer, CEO of BCBSM, helped Gretchen Whitmer and her then-husband get a $132,000 mortgage on the house in April 2003.
That mortgage included a 2.96 percent interest rate, quite low considering the historical monthly mortgage rate for the area between April and May 2003 fluctuated between 5.917 percent and 5.611 percent, according to rates accessed on HSH.com.
Whitmer kept the East Lansing residence in the divorce, and in 2017, it had an assessed value of $313,700. Whitmer’s residence is 125 feet away from her father’s residence on the same street.
It stands to reason that Gretchen Whitmer would have a close relationship with her father, even though he was the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield at the time. However, her ties to the company do not stop with her father. According to The Intercept, current BCBSM CEO Dan Leopp was the first person to encourage her to get into politics.
These close personal connections to BCBSM do not have to be a problem for Whitmer, but her voting record and the campaign contributions from BCBSM suggest that she is a close ally of the company — far more so than Schuette.
Nicole Simmons, Whitmer’s press secretary, insisted that the candidate has proven her ability to stand up to Big Pharma in one particular situation.
“When Gretchen Whitmer’s mother was dying of brain cancer, she took on the insurance company when they wrongfully denied coverage for her chemotherapy,” Simmons declared. “That’s why Whitmer worked across the aisle with Governor Snyder to expand Medicaid to more than 680,000 Michiganders.”
The candidate’s advocacy for her mother was laudable, but it must be weighed in the balance against her campaign’s finances, her voting record, and her long history of close relationships with BCBSM.
At any rate, her campaign’s ridiculous attack that “Schuette is a flaming hypocrite who doesn’t give a rip about protecting coverage for people with cancer, diabetes, and autism” is utterly false. Not only has he consistently supported coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but he voted for it multiple times — long before he ever opposed Obamacare.
It seems rather telling that Whitmer’s campaign resorted to this attack — and the attack on Schuette for receiving less money from BCBSM than the Democrat’s campaign has. As the polls narrow, voters will have to decide who is the “flaming hypocrite” in this race.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.