Archive for Friday, December 14, 2001

Anthem defends Blue Cross proposal

December 14, 2001

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Top company officials on Thursday defended the proposed sale of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield as criticism of the deal mounted.

A public hearing on the proposed purchase will be from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. today at the Maner Conference Center in Topeka.

Indianapolis-based Anthem, which has 8 million policyholders in eight states, has proposed buying Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas the state's largest insurer that covers about 700,000 people for about $190 million.

Some residents in Maine, where Anthem recently bought the local Blue Cross, have warned Kansans that since the purchase their premiums have increased and service has fallen.

And in Kansas, physician and former congressmen Bill Roy of Topeka has come out against the deal, saying the $190 million price is way too low.

"If this deal goes through, we will not be selling Anthem our old and honored Kansas company. We will be giving it to them," Roy said.

But Mike Mattox, executive vice president with Blue Cross of Kansas, said the price was probably top dollar for the company, which has lost money nine of the past 10 years.

"There is nothing to suppress someone from making a superior offer," Mattox said.

Mattox said becoming part of the Anthem system is a good fit for the company, which has purchased Blue Cross companies in eight other states.

He said Anthem will keep all 2,000 Blue Cross of Kansas employees and offers the best chance for policyholders to continue with a solid insurance company.

The insurance industry is consolidating, and Blue Cross of Kansas needs to join a larger company to survive, Mattox said.

David Frick, chief administrative officer for Anthem, said his company has succeeded in satisfying policyholders, doctors and hospitals.

Proof of that, he said, is that Anthem continues to grow in states it has entered.

Blue Cross of Kansas policyholders are voting whether to accept the sale and end their ownership of the company. If they approve, then the decision will rest in the hands of State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas covers 700,000 people, making it the state's largest health insurer. Public hearings have been held across Kansas on the Anthem proposal. Sebelius will preside over a formal public hearing Jan. 7-9 in Topeka. The insurance officials said they hope to have the merger question settled by the end of January.

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