Trashing Charlie Baker on Outsourcing: Uncalled For

October 19, 2014
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Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

Charlie Baker (R), candidate for Governor of Massachusetts

The mud-slinging continues in the campaign for Governor of Massachusetts. This time Democrat Martha Coakley is attacking Republican Charlie Baker for outsourcing jobs when he was CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care back in 1999. This is on top of the previous accusations of “raising premiums, cutting coverage for seniors, and tripling his own salary to $1.7 million.”

It’s an unfair attack. Baker should be praised instead.

Harvard Pilgrim’s IT systems were a mess in the 90s. They couldn’t pay claims in an accurate or timely manner, and as a result the company couldn’t figure out if it was making or losing money. As it turned out they were losing, and on their way to bankruptcy. Baker stepped in and righted the ship.

Outsourcing to Perot was a good move. Perot hired the existing Harvard Pilgrim IT staff in Massachusetts. In 2006, Perot hired about 200 employees in India to serve the account. Apparently this is the basis for the Coakley attack, but it’s a pretty weak one.

It’s not Harvard Pilgrim’s job to boost employment in Massachusetts. Instead the primary goal should be to deliver excellent service and value to customers. They seem to have done a good job, since they consistently rate at or near the top of the best health plans in the US.

I assume the Coakley campaign knows that the allegations about raising premiums are not to be taken seriously. Health plans have been raising prices forever –there’s no reason to single Baker out for that. And Coakley would like us to believe that Baker cut benefits for the elderly, making him sound like Paul Ryan taking a knife to Medicare. The reality is much less exciting and newsworthy. And sure Baker got a big salary boost, which is a pretty modest reward for rescuing a major company. If it had been a for-profit company you can bet the rewards would have been a heck of a lot bigger.

Baker isn’t perfect. But attacks on his competence and wisdom as a healthcare leader deserve to backfire.

To read or listen to my interviews with all the candidates for Governor of Massachusetts, check out my coverage from earlier this year.