Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Decision a gamble in election year

February 12, 2002

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— Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius' rejection of a takeover of the state's largest insurance company will keep $320 million out of the pockets of tens of thousands of Kansans.

That's not what a person running for governor wants on her resume.

But Sebelius, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, was awarded points Monday from politicians of both parties for making a tough decision and one they agreed could be in the long-term best interest of Kansas.

Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, a candidate to become the next insurance commissioner, praised Sebelius.

"I think Kathleen did what she felt was in the best interest of the insurance-buying public," Praeger said. "I'm not opposed to what she did."

Sebelius' rejection of the purchase of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Indiana stopped the pay-off of some 172,000 policyholders who would have shared about $320 million from the sale.

Many of those policyholders are senior citizens who would have stood to receive about $1,500, or about the cost of one year's worth of their Medicare supplemental policies.

But Sebelius said the deal would have hurt policyholders in the long run because Anthem would have driven up premiums to satisfy its stockholders.

Even so, policyholders approved the deal. Of the 172,000 policyholders, 100,000 voted on the proposal, with 63,504 for it and 36,618 against, or 63.4 percent to 36.5 percent. But Sebelius spun that vote a different way Monday, saying that two-thirds of the policyholders, when promised cash, either voted against the deal or didn't vote.

Sebelius steered clear of addressing questions about how her action would affect her political aspirations.

"The citizens of Kansas will have to make that decision. I'm doing the best job I can with my statutory duties," she said.

Sebelius has stated previously that she would make an official announcement about her intentions to run for governor after the Blue Cross decision.

But on Monday, she refused to talk about it.

"This is enough announcement for today," she said.

Rep. Carlos Mayans, R-Wichita, said Sebelius' decision in the Blue Cross matter will not hurt her.

"It was a smart political move. There were enough questions concerning the possible rate increases," Mayans said.

But some said she gained nothing in making a decision that was applauded by consumer groups  groups that already were expected to be in her camp.

But other lawmakers said Sebelius will be seen as decisive and not afraid of confronting a politically sticky issue. She had five public hearings across the state and was in charge of a three-day administrative hearing on the issue. Most agreed that the process allowed ample opportunity for supporters and opponents to voice their concerns.

"She toughed it out and did what she thought was right," said Rep. Nancy Kirk of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the House Insurance Committee. "What more could we ask of a public official?"

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