FURTHER UPDATE (July 30, 10:56 a.m. ET): Leading Authorities Inc. president Mark French sent a letter dated July 27 to Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), taking responsibility for the appearance of the journalists' names on the AHIP Speakers Network list. French wrote:
Leading Authorities, Inc., one of the nation's top lecture agencies, entered into a business relationship with AHIP for the purpose of promoting health care speakers to AHIP members. In this process, several journalist speakers were put on the joint Leading Authorities-AHIP Speakers Network site. This was an error by Leading Authorities for which we take full responsibility and was not authorized by the journalists mentioned above.
UPDATE: Following this item's publication, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) issued a statement on July 27 saying that the three journalists referenced in this item -- Robert Bazell and Nancy Snyderman of NBC News and Susan Dentzer of PBS' NewsHour -- say that "AHIP [America's Health Insurance Plans] and/or the Leading Authorities Speakers Bureau added them to" the AHIP Health Care Speakers Network "without their approval and without their knowledge."
All three journalists remain listed on Leading Authorities' website. According to Leading Authorities, Bazell charges speaking fees of up to $20,000 and Snyderman charges fees of up to $50,000. Leading Authorities instructs readers to "inquire" about Dentzer's fees.
A July 23 Daily Kos diary by "nyceve" noted that three medical correspondents -- Robert Bazell and Nancy Snyderman of NBC News and Susan Dentzer of PBS' NewsHour -- "all participate on the AHIP [America's Health Insurance Plans] Speakers Network." AHIP describes itself as "the voice of America's health insurers" and "the national association representing nearly 1,300 member companies providing health insurance coverage to more than 200 million Americans." Its board of directors consists mainly of insurance-company executives. A July 25 Roll Call article (subscription required) described AHIP as "the lobbying group for the health insurance industry." The Daily Kos diary also noted that none of the bios for the three journalists on the websites of NBC or PBS disclosed the journalists' roles with the AHIP Speakers Network. Each of the reporters was, indeed, listed on AHIP's website as part of its speakers network, but all three names have since been removed from the list.
The diary highlighting Bazell's and Snyderman's ties to AHIP was posted on Daily Kos less than a week after Media Matters for America noted that their colleague Jim Miklaszewski, NBC chief Pentagon correspondent, reportedly took $30,000 from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to address its Business EXPO 2007. During his talk, Miklaszewski reportedly attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, calling him a "loser."
In the section of the AHIP website discussing "Our Issues," the group lists "Coverage Mandates" and "Medicare Drug Discount Cards." On the issue of coverage mandates, AHIP says it "opposes legislation imposing coverage mandates on health insurance plans" and that it "supports policies that spur innovation in cost savings and efficiency, which in turn allows health insurance plans to provide affordable health care coverage and improved services to their customers."
Medicare drug discount cards were created as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Bush. AHIP's page on the issue says it "strongly supports implementation of this program to reduce prescription drug costs for beneficiaries -- while providing up to $600 annually in added assistance for those with low incomes -- in the time that remains before a prescription drug benefit is available to all Medicare beneficiaries beginning in January 2006."
The day the diary was posted, the website for the AHIP Health Care Speakers Network featured a photo of Bazell and stated that "NBC viewers have long known that when there is a major breakthrough in science or medicine, Bazell will be there to explain it in a lively and understandable way."
But the day after the Daily Kos diary appeared, Bazell was no longer featured on the AHIP Health Care Speakers Network homepage.
Similarly, the day of the Daily Kos diary, both Snyderman and Dentzer were listed on the site's main page in a drop-down menu that lists speakers in the network.
The day following the Daily Kos diary, neither Dentzer nor Snyderman were listed in the drop-down list.
Despite the removal of their names from the list of speakers, the bios for Bazell, Snyderman, and Dentzer remained on the site. Media Matters obtained the still-active links for all three bios using the Internet Archive. Bazell's bio provides a phone number to call for more information in booking him for an event; Snyderman's page says her fee range is between $30,001 and $50,000; and Dentzer's says people should inquire about her fee range. Each bio page advises customers to get an "exact quote" for a speaking fee from Leading Authorities Inc. [LAI], a speakers bureau that entered into a joint venture with AHIP called the Health Care Speakers network, according to the AHIP website. LAI says that its "mission is to help organizations create powerful meeting experiences and messages using world class talent, entertainment and creative media." According to LAI, its "core business is its speakers bureau, which serves blue-chip associations, companies and universities." LAI lists numerous journalists among its speakers.
A July 6, 2005, press release stated that Dentzer had spoken the previous month at the "inaugural event" of "The Dolphin Group, a 'think tank' comprised of industry peers who wish to discourse on the unique problems facing IT executives in the healthcare information industry." The release said that The Dolphin Group held the event "in conjunction with" AHIP's "Institute 2005." According to the release, Dentzer "spoke about the current Administration's efforts to privatize Social Security, the effects privatization may have on Medicare and Medicaid, and the state of government funding for healthcare technology initiatives." In May, Dentzer spoke at "Health IT: Unlocking the Potential," a "summit" hosted by Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente's website says it is "the largest nonprofit health plan in the United States."