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Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Maine residents warn Kansans of Anthem takeover

December 12, 2001

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Remember the Maine.

That's what some unhappy Maine residents are saying to warn Kansans about the proposed purchase of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Anthem, which bought Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine, will hit customers there next month with a double-digit rate hike approved while the company was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defeat an advisory referendum in Portland, Maine, on universal health care.

"Beware is my No. 1 word," said Tammy Greaton, co-director of the Maine People's Alliance, which has fought Anthem. "They are for-profit, and they don't care about health care."

Anthem also is target of a lawsuit by the Connecticut attorney general. Anger against the company has also produced a Web site full of complaints from policyholders.

But Lauren Green-Caldwell, an Anthem spokeswoman, said the company is doing a good job.

"We place a very high value on quality," she said. Anthem, she said, would be a perfect fit for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas.

The Kansas deal

Anthem, based in Indianapolis, wants to buy Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. Blue Cross here covers 450,000 people. That makes it the state's largest health insurer.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas is currently asking policyholders to allow the company to change from one run by policyholders to one run by stockholders. If that is approved and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius gives her OK, then Anthem can buy Blue Cross of Kansas.

Under the proposal, Anthem could pay an estimated $321 million to policyholders, though the exact amount is not guaranteed by the company.

Several public hearings have been held across Kansas on the proposal. Two more are scheduled this week for Thursday in Pittsburg and Friday in Topeka. Sebelius will preside over a formal public hearing on the plan Jan. 7-9 in Topeka.

Blue Cross of Kansas has recommended the acquisition, saying it will enhance its ability to provide quality service and health-care products. Anthem has been successful in acquiring Blue Cross affiliates in Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Ohio, Maine, Nevada and New Hampshire.

Anthem elsewhere

Last month, Anthem almost single-handedly financed an unsuccessful, $400,000 campaign to defeat a non-binding referendum on a single-payer health-care system in Portland, Maine.

Greaton said Anthem's spending probably a record in Portland city politics backfired. Voters grew angry because the company was spending big bucks to defeat the referendum while simultaneously seeking increases in premiums, ranging from 13.6 percent to 31.7 percent. The referendum passed.

Anthem officials defended the company's campaign against the referendum, saying they were obliged to inform voters that a universal health-care system would increase taxes and lower health care quality.

Lois Reed, a resident of Carmel, Maine, has expressed displeasure with Anthem on a Web site, whose address is www.stopanthem.com.

The former Kansas resident said Kansans should vote against the proposal that would bring Anthem to this state. Rates have gone up and quality has gone down after Anthem took over the Maine Blue Cross, she said.

"I would urge Kansans to try very much to prevent this from happening," Reed said.

Earlier this month, insurance regulators in Maine approved a 13 percent increase for premiums on Anthem's most-used policy and a 30 percent increase for the company's individual HMO plan.

Maine's superintendent of insurance, Iuppa Alessandro, said Anthem proved it needed the increases because of rising health-care costs.

And he defended the company against its critics, saying that Anthem saved Blue Cross of Maine from going bankrupt.

"They were six to eight weeks from being taken over by the state," Alessandro said.

Connecticut has sued several health insurers, including Anthem, alleging the companies are improperly delaying and denying payments for health care. Anthem has denied the charge.

Competitive player

Green-Caldwell, Anthem's spokeswoman, declined to say whether rates would go up in Kansas, as they have in Maine, but she said companies nationwide are increasing rates to cover skyrocketing health-care costs.

She said rates are determined by the experience of losses in a particular state.

"In Kansas, we would be working with the department of insurance and rates would be set accordingly. We can't come into Kansas and not be a competitive player," she said.

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