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Big pay raise at California insurer draws questions

A woman gets information from the Blue Shield of California booth at the East Los Angeles Health Fair held at Griffith Middle School on September 21, 2013 in East Los Angeles.
Gary Friedman | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
A woman gets information from the Blue Shield of California booth at the East Los Angeles Health Fair held at Griffith Middle School on September 21, 2013 in East Los Angeles.

If large nonprofit health insurer Blue Shield of California thought it was a good idea not to tell state regulators the identifies of some of the executives who received an eye-popping 64 percent compensation hike in 2012, it might want to think again.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is now investigating issues surrounding $24 million in increased executive compensation payments that year, which were revealed by the Los Angeles Times after its review of a confidential state audit.

Blue Shield's failure to disclose in a 2013 regulatory filing how much then-CEO Bruce Bodaken and other executives who left the insurer in 2012 received, "raises very serious and troubling questions with regard to whether Blue Shield misled the Department of Insurance," Jones told the Times.

His scrutiny of Blue Shield comes six months after it was first publicly revealed that the California Franchise Tax Board had revoked the insurer's state tax exemption.

That revocation followed the confidential audit, whose authors "criticized the insurer for stockpiling 'extraordinarily high surpluses' of $4 billion and for failing to offer more affordable coverage as a nonprofit," according to the Times. Blue Shield is now appealing that decision.

The audit also found that Blue Shield paid almost 60 executives a total of $61 million in 2012, which "appears to include Bodaken and others who left," according to the Times' new report.

The newspaper said that Blue Shield did not include the pay of Bodaken and the other departed executives in a separate state filing that mandated the insurer disclose its top 10 executive earners in 2012.

The Times also quoted the insurer's former public policy director, who is now a critic of the company, as saying that senior officials had told him Bodaken got about $20 million that year as part of his retirement package.

"What is Blue Shield trying to hide?" executive compensation consultant Frank Glassner said to the Times. "Blue Shield owns policyholders an explanation for how it spent this money."

The insurer's spokesman told the paper, "We disclose executive compensation in full compliance with all regulatory requirements while at the same time respecting our employees' privacy."

Blue Shield of California reportedly maintains that it does not have to disclose the compensation of top executives who left the company before it files compensation disclosure statements with regulators.

"Many factors contributed to this one-time increase in officer compensation that affected a large number of employees, including severance, pension, deferred compensation, accrued vacation, merit increases, incentive pay, benefits and relocation expense reimbursement," spokesman Steve Shivinsky said.

Read the Times article here.