IU Health CEO asks peers to donate to Chambers to head off industry harm

The CEO and president of IU Health urged his peers to donate to gubernatorial Brad Chambers, calling him a balanced candidate. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
By Whitney Downard
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — An industry leader at one of Indiana’s largest health systems urged fellow hospital stakeholders to donate to gubernatorial candidate Brad Chambers over competitors, saying he is “deeply concerned about the next four years if one of the other candidates is our next republican candidate for governor.”

The email also included directions on how to wire money to a “policy” nonprofit that doesn’t disclose donors and has no contribution limits.

Dennis Murphy, the CEO and president of IU Health, emailed two dozen of his peers Sunday detailing a “shared concern” about actions from General Assembly leadership concerning hospitals, perceived mischaracterizations and a fear that the “upcoming gubernatorial (election) has the potential to make these set of issues even worse.”

“One candidate has been willing to meet with hospital and health system leaders and truly talk openly about the issues facing our state and our industry, Brad Chambers,” Murphy wrote in a letter obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle from two sources.

Specifically, Murphy points to U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden’s proposals as potentially harmful to the industry.

The letter asks each “large system” to contribute $2,000 from each of their top 25 leaders for a total of $50,000. Freestanding systems were directed to raise $2,000 from their top five leaders, or $10,000 — though Murphy said he “hope(d) that some organizations will do significantly more.”

IU Health said the letter was a personal effort and that Murphy didn’t want to expound further, a sentiment Murphy repeated in a message from his personal email.

Letter contents

Murphy opens the missive about a “shared concern that our legislative leaders do not believe that we as hospital and health systems play a vital role in the health and well-being of our communities.

“Rather, our legislative leaders see us only as a cost to be managed, entities who do not fulfill their not-for-profit status, or the sole reason for the poor health outcomes that exist in our state.”

IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy. (Photo from IU Health)

The references appear to be referring to a rash of legislation from the General Assembly attempting to tackle high health care costs spurred by a 2022 letter from House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray to health insurers and health care systems.

Leaders warned the health entities to lower their prices or risk lawmaker intervention.

In 2023, lawmakers passed a bill that would require the Department of Insurance to compare prices at several non-profit hospital systems with 285% of Medicare — which authors admitted was targeted at certain entities. Initially, the bill would have penalized those systems.

Murphy combated those moves by highlighting “the true good that occurs in each and every one of your organizations every day” in his letter but shared a concern that two candidates “have gone on the record to put forward ideas that would be very harmful to our industry and to our individual institutions.”

He didn’t specify what about the proposals from Doden and Braun he disliked but called Chambers “balanced” in his approach. Chambers’ campaign needed an infusion of cash to counter monies from Hoosiers for Affordable Healthcare, which Murphy said had “raised significant funds on behalf of candidates who will continue to push forward harmful legislation to hospitals and health systems.”

A campaign finance search for Al Hubbard, the chair of Hoosiers for Affordable Healthcare, found $10,000 contributions each to Braun and Chambers. The entity itself hasn’t donated to the gubernatorial race.

Donation instructions

Murphy directed leaders to make their donations via Win Red, a Republican fundraising platform. The majority of hospital CEOs emailed didn’t have a history of political donations on the Secretary of State’s campaign finance portal, including Murphy himself. Some had a smattering of contributions to Friends of Indiana Hospitals, the political action committee for the Indiana Hospital Association (IHA).

Messages to three, smaller hospital entities didn’t receive a response on Tuesday.

In a statement, IHA said the fund made contributions to various candidates — which includes dozens of Republican and Democratic Statehouse incumbents — but hadn’t yet donated to any of the declared gubernatorial candidates in this election cycle.

Need to get in touch?

Two CEOs had contributions to Suburban Health Organization Political Action Committee, LLC and one donated to HEALTHPAC — the latter of which has contributed a combined $3,500 to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch since November 2022.

Crouch, a Republican, launched her gubernatorial campaign in December of 2022.

However, Murphy also included instructions for donating via the Indiana Innovation Council, which is a 501(c)(4) company that isn’t required to disclose contributions. The new organization has just a bare bones website.

Such entities include the National Rifle Association and Sierra Club, which aren’t supposed to be exclusively dedicated to politics but rather “social welfare” — as detailed by Open Secrets, a campaign finance transparency organization. Open Secrets notes that 501(c)(4) groups aren’t required to report all of their spending or identify their donors, which is one of the forms of “dark money” fundraising in politics that obscures funding sources.

Notably, such organizations also don’t have maximum caps in their donations to political campaigns.

Murphy’s email said the Indiana Innovation Council is “is promoting Brad’s economic agenda.”

The address affiliated with the entity is the same as the consultant firm for Chambers’ senior strategist, Marty Obst.

The state of the race

Neither Crouch nor former Attorney General Curtis Hill have a dedicated section on their websites for health policies. Jamie Reitenour dedicates a portion of her platform to health “freedom” but not prices.

Braun’s website says “the high cost of healthcare in Indiana is a glaring weakness,” calling for transparency and more against “the powerful healthcare lobby.” Many of the one-term senator’s efforts have been focused on health care policy, including a wide-ranging national price transparency initiative.

 Gubernatorial candidates Eric Doden and U.S. Senator Mike Braun were singled out in an IU CEO letter for health care policies that didn’t align with hospitals. (Screenshots from candidate advertisements)

“IU Health CEO Dennis Murphy is donating to my opponents and asking his friends in Big Healthcare to join him because he knows nobody will work harder to lower their prices than I will. Hoosiers are tired of paying some of the highest prices in the country and the CEO of the state’s largest hospital system has made it clear he’s for the status quo. I am not,” Braun said in a statement.

“Indiana will lower healthcare prices through transparency, competition, and empowering healthcare consumers, not the hospital lobby. As Governor, I will work with anyone willing to help Hoosiers see lower prices for their healthcare,” he concluded.

Doden’s campaign appeared to agree with the criticism from Murphy, drawing from its website section on hospital transparency for reference.

“Dennis Murphy made $4 million last year as the head of a hospital that makes billions of dollars off Hoosiers but pays no state taxes. He’s right, Hoosiers looking to maintain special tax status for hospitals and the status quo in health care should vote for one of the career politicians running,” his campaign said in a statement. “As Governor, Eric Doden will implement a plan to ensure hospitals provide full transparency in pricing and their use of taxpayer funding, and incentivize non-profit hospitals to invest a portion of their billions in profits – which are currently on Wall Street – back into the Main Streets of the communities they serve.”

Lastly, while Brad Chambers has released a handful of detailed plans on specific areas — including education, China and online safety — none yet address his health policy initiatives.

In a response to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, Chambers said, “We must work together to improve health outcomes for Hoosiers at prices they can afford. Increased competition and price transparency are an important part of the equation, but there is more we can do. As governor, I’ll bring all stakeholders to the table to take a holistic approach with the goal of increasing access to high quality care at affordable prices, with an overall focus on improving the average health of Hoosiers.”

Last month Chambers loaned another $2 million to his campaign on top of the $5 million he loaned last year.

Murphy concludes his letter by urging his peers to make their donations soon, within the next week or so, “if we collectively want to have an impact on this race.”

“I am asking you to help your organization and our industry by ensuring we have a true voice at the table in this next administration,” he said.

The Republican primary is May 7 and Republicans will convene in a June convention to select their nominee for lieutenant governor.

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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