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Insurance Department Will Hold Public Hearings on Proposed Consolidation of Highmark, Independence Blue Cross
Date:12/21/2007

Hearings will ensure consumers' interests are considered, protected

HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- To ensure the interests of consumers are protected, acting Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario today announced that the Insurance Department will hold public hearings during 2008 as part of its review of the proposed consolidation of Independence Blue Cross and Highmark Inc.

"Our highest priority is to see that consumers would be protected in any transaction of this type, so public input will be an integral part of the department's evaluation of the proposed consolidation," said Ario. "We will schedule public hearings across the state after we have gathered the necessary information and completed our initial analysis.

"With the full cooperation of Highmark and Independence Blue Cross, the public hearings could be held by early summer and a final decision could be rendered by the end of 2008."

If approved, the proposed consolidation would create one of the largest health insurers in the nation, with 2006 premiums in excess of $17.5 billion.

Ario noted that, to date, Highmark and Independence Blue Cross have answered 38 of the 71 questions the department sent to the companies in August.

"The department is analyzing information as it is received and intends to schedule public hearings after we have received and analyzed the companies' answers to all of our questions and conducted any necessary follow up, including an economic analysis of the Pennsylvania marketplace," he said.

The Insurance Department has engaged the services of The Blackstone Group to provide financial expertise in its review of the proposed consolidation of Independence Blue Cross and Highmark. In addition, the department has engaged the law firms of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen and Hangley Aronchik Segal & Pudlin to provide legal expertise on the proposed transaction.

The Blackstone Group is a leading Wall Street firm with an insurance practice that has advised state regulators on three high profile Blue Cross Blue Shield transactions in recent years, including a 2005 New York sale of a converted Blue Plan to WellPoint, a transaction that was approved, and a 2003 Maryland conversion and 2004 Washington conversion that were both disapproved.

Wolf Block and Hangley Aronchick are Pennsylvania-based firms that have previously advised and represented various state agencies on a broad range of issues.

"With our financial and legal experts on board, we are ready to take a careful look at the impact this consolidation could have on market competition and the needs of the insurance-buying public," said Ario. "We'll also be assessing the proposed transaction against more specific standards addressing licensure, solvency, business plans and management experience."

The transaction applications, as well as the department's questions and numerous comment letters from interested parties, are available for review at http://www.insurance.state.pa.us and clicking on "Highmark/IBC Filing."

Interested parties who wish to offer a written comment may still do so by submitting their comments to: Robert Brackbill, Chief, Company Licensing Division, Insurance Department, 1345 Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA 17120, fax (717) 787-8557 or via e-mail at: rbrackbill@state.pa.us.

An index of all public comments and company responses to these comments is posted and periodically updated on the department's Web site.

CONTACT:

Rosanne Placey or

Melissa Fox

(717) 787-3289


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SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Insurance
Copyright©2007 PR Newswire.
All rights reserved

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