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The power of money

Shame on the nation's biggest health insurer; shame on the Black Caucus
By EDITORIAL  |  February 18, 2010

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While a cadre of conservative Democrats continues to conspire with Washington's mendacious Republican minority to block national health-care reform, the nation's largest health-benefits company — amusingly called WellPoint — is going about its business of screwing policyholders and scoring record profits in the process.

The publicly traded, for-profit WellPoint, through various subsidiaries, controls 14 Blue Cross Blue Shield franchises spanning the nation from California to New York, including three in New England: in Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

In California, WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross division recently announced price hikes that range from 30 to 39 percent for individual policyholders who are not covered by group plans.

Those price hikes piggyback on similar increases from last year.

But there is even more bad news. Anthem has put policyholders on notice that prices may increase "more frequently" than once per year, as is standard.

No wonder the share prices of health-insurance companies traded higher on the news that Republican Scott Brown, an opponent of health reform, had been chosen to replace Senator Edward Kennedy, the Senate's long-time leader of the effort.

It does not take a genius to explain what this means: more individuals and families are going to be forced either to buy policies with higher deductibles and less coverage or forgo insurance altogether. And this does not take into account those with pre-existing conditions who are denied coverage.

WellPoint admits that the number of individuals it insures is declining, but points out that these price increases allow it to remain profitable. The insurer, however, is gracious enough to say, "We understand and strongly share our members' concerns."

In Maine, where moderate Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins continue to hang tough with their more Neanderthal and obstructionist GOP colleagues, Anthem has requested a 23 percent hike for individual policyholders.

A recent survey shows that more than one in 10 Mainers lack insurance and nearly one in five fears losing coverage. Clearly, the situation in Maine and throughout the nation is going to get worse. WellPoint offers just a snapshot of how spiraling health-care costs are punishing workers and their employers.

Early in the health-care debate, Snowe garnered reams of favorable press for her willingness to roll up her sleeves and participate in the reform effort. These days, it appears that she is sitting on the sidelines, just saying "no" along with the rest of the Republicans.

Snowe says doing nothing is not an option. Well, then, senator, do something. Break out of the pack and go public with a workable plan. Be the one to broker a compromise.

WellPoint is symptomatic of a system that no longer works. The sooner Snowe comes to grips with this reality, the better Mainers — and the nation — will be.

The Black Caucus
The special interests that are combining to scuttle health-care reform are just a drop in the proverbial sea of corporate influence that floods Washington. Very few, it seems, can escape its taint.

A case in point is the ultra-progressive Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which the New York Times this past Sunday exposed as recipients of perfectly legal but morally compromising corporate payouts.

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