ALBANY -- Physicians' Reciprocal Insurers, the Roslyn-based company linked to the federal investigation of indicted Sen. Dean Skelos, has spent millions of dollars over the past two decades on campaign contributions and lobbying to try to influence medical malpractice and insurance laws, records show.
The company, which relies on the State Legislature to extend a law that prohibits the state insurance regulator from liquidating insurers that are in the red, gained a foothold in the New York medical-malpractice market more than two decades ago in part through the successful lobbying of Joseph Margiotta, the late Nassau County Republican boss. Since then, it has been an active voice on insurance legislation and a frequent campaign contributor to Republicans and Democrats alike.
In an audit covering 2014 and filed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Physicians' Reciprocal's auditors reported a $45 million "net underwriting loss."
The company has employed three well-known lobbying firms, one led by former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and two that have links to other players in the Skelos investigation. Physicians' Reciprocal has paid each lobbying firm more than $440,000 since 2007 to represent it on an array of issues, records show.
The family of Anthony Bonomo, who leads Physicians' Reciprocal, as well as the company itself and its executives, have contributed $2.3 million to political campaigns over the past 15 years. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been the largest recipient ($512,148).
Earlier this year, Cuomo tapped Bonomo, who owns a horse racing stable, to head the New York Racing Association. Bonomo stepped down from the organization, which oversees thoroughbred racing at Belmont and two other tracks, following the arrest of Skelos and his son, Adam, on federal corruption charges. Bonomo's company isn't a target in the case, but a company spokesman has acknowledged it is "is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney" and declined to comment further.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has accused Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), 67, of soliciting bribes and extorting three companies to hire Adam, 33, in exchange for favorable legislation or contracts. Though not named in the indictment, the companies have been identified as Glenwood Management, a New Hyde Park-based real estate developer and significant campaign contributor; AbTech, an Arizona environmental firm, and Physicians' Reciprocal. Each had critical business before New York politicians.
For example, lawmakers tucked a provision into the 2015-16 state budget that extended "special protection" to malpractice insurers by preventing them from being liquidated "even when operating a negative balance sheet as was the case for" the Roslyn company, the Skelos indictment said. Newsday first reported the extension, which applied to Physicians' Reciprocal and one much smaller insurer.
Skelos and his son have pleaded not guilty. He resigned as state Senate majority leader but retained his Senate seat.
Physicians' Reciprocal officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The company was formed by an association of doctors in 1982 and was a subsidiary of Florida-based FPIC Insurance, according to company websites. It now covers more than 12,000 doctors and health care facilities.
Expansion in New York
In the mid-1990s, Physicians' Reciprocal sought to expand in New York. The company lobbied officials to open up what's known as the excess medical malpractice market, which at the time was dominated by one company, Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Co., or MLMIC, according to news accounts. Physicians' Reciprocal employed Margiotta, the former state assemblyman and Nassau County Republican chairman, to lobby.
"MLMIC was the only game in town and had control of the market," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "When PRI got on the scene, it got a lot of attention in part because of the lobbying of Joe Margiotta. It was a multiyear effort to get into the market."
The company now has roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of the market, according to industry reports.
Since then, Physicians' Reciprocal has lobbied on a wide range of bills, dealing with insurance rates, tort reform, statutes of limitations for lawsuit claims, and even one that would have declared a hospital's or doctor's apology isn't an admission of liability, according to state ethics commission records.
One of its few issues that garnered a lot of attention was a 2009 bill that would have allowed malpractice insurers to switch to a cash-flow accounting basis. Critics likened the idea to a Ponzi scheme, allowing companies to count future insurance premiums against current claims. Proponents argued that reducing mandated capital reserves would allow insurance companies to offer doctors lower rates, among other things. The bill died in the legislature.
Physicians' Reciprocal has spent $1.64 million on lobbyists since 2007, according to the earliest records available on the ethics commission website. This includes $450,000 paid to Park Strategies, D'Amato's firm, whose executives include Gregory V. Serio, the state's insurance commissioner during the Pataki administration.
Park Strategies officials didn't comment.
PRI also has contracted with two firms that also represented Glenwood and AbTech: Brian Meara Public Relations ($451,000) and Capitol Group ($440,000), which is headed by Albany veteran Nick Barrella.
Bonomo, family members, company officials, the company itself and affiliated companies regularly have donated to political candidates over the past 15 years, a Newsday review found. Among the contributions to Cuomo was a $50,000 contribution days before the governor named Bonomo as the new NYRA chairman.
A series of donations
Over the years, they collectively gave $91,600 to Skelos and $119,250 to Senate Republican committees, which Skelos controlled until stepping down as leader May 11.
They also gave $162,500 to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat; $186,967 to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, also a Democrat; $147,000 to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican; and $110,500 to Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Mineola), who previously served as Nassau district attorney.
In addition, Bonomo's son, Anthony Bonomo Jr., has worked for the Cuomo administration's Office of Storm Recovery.
Bonomo, who owns Brooklyn Boyz Stables, took a leave of absence from NYRA after the Skelos indictment, saying he didn't want "recent events to distract from the ongoing work of the NYRA." Cuomo agreed with the decision.
In an expanded indictment, prosecutors alleged that Skelos bullied Bonomo into hiring Adam Skelos for a job that, between salary and benefits, was worth $100,000 annually. The younger Skelos allegedly showed up for just one hour of work during his first week on the job and later threatened to "smash in" the head of a supervisor who complained. Despite that, Bonomo thought he had to keep Adam Skelos on the payroll, according to prosecutors.
"The CEO believed" that if he terminated Adam, Dean Skelos "could take adverse action on legislation important to" Physicians' Reciprocal, the indictment said.