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Opposition Continues to Grow to Blues' Legislation

LANSING, Mich., Dec. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Seniors, disabled Michiganders, state HMOs and health insurance companies gathered today to oppose efforts by Blue Cross to jam anti-consumer, anti-business legislation through the lame duck session of the Legislature.

"This could be a matter of life or death for many of us in Michigan," said RoAnne Chaney, Health Policy Manager for the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition. "A vote for this bill is a vote to dramatically raise health prices for thousands of Michigan families, many who are least able to pay - and we know already that two people die each day in Michigan because they don't have health insurance. That number will rise if this bill passes."

The current drafts of HB 5282 and 5283, proposed by Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, will allow Blue Cross to raise rates on insurance it sells to individuals by 40 percent without any oversight by the Attorney General or state regulators. The Blues-backed bills would let the company raise its Medicare Supplement rates by 75 percent. And it would allow the Blues to create a special pool, or band, allowing it to charge 300 percent more to seniors and those with disabilities than other individuals it insures.

Mary Ablan, executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan said the proposal by Blue Cross to toss thousands of families into a high rate "pool" or "band" will be catastrophic for many. "We are shocked that some lawmakers are willing to support the Corriveau bills at the expense of seniors and those with serious health problems! President-elect Obama has said he wants to make insurance more available to families - this bill moves in exactly the opposite direction."

Amy Tripp, chair of the Elder Law and Disability Rights Section, State Bar of Michigan, said that the bills will make it harder for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to get benefits. Tripp also said the bills eliminate the most important consumer protections now available under current law.

"This bill ties the hands of the Michigan insurance commission and Attorney General when it comes to overseeing rate proposals by Blue Cross - a company that has 70% of the health market in the state," said Tripp.

Michigan's HMOs oppose the bills because they would add a new tax to their operations, with proceeds going to a fund that only Blue Cross is likely to be able to utilize. "We should be taking steps to address Michigan's most fundamental health insurance issues - how to expand availability of affordable insurance to more people. Instead, this bill will increase the number of uninsured in the state, and raise rates for all. It's the wrong prescription for Michigan," said Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans.

Joseph Aoun, an attorney who has extensively studied Blue Cross's financial documents, said there is no data to show any state policy is having an adverse impact on the company. Instead, he said there is ample evidence that the losses are mostly a result of Blues' management decisions - and the Legislature shouldn't be called upon to fix management miscues, he said.

"This decade, while companies and families in Michigan have struggled to survive, the Blues have increased their surplus from $1.3 billion to $2.9 billion. While the Blues tell lawmakers they are broke, they file documents with the insurance commission saying they made $212 million in the first nine months of 2008 - more than they made last year," Aoun said.

He noted that the company has increased rates for groups it insurance in recent years, but not in the individual market. That has encouraged businesses to drop their coverage and move employees into the individual market. Modest increases in rates in the individual market would price that product properly, while reducing incentives for businesses to drop their group plans, he noted.

Instead of jamming through the Corriveau versions of House Bill 5282 and 5283, which are dramatically different than the bipartisan compromise reached in the Senate, speakers urged lawmakers to take time to hold full hearings to make sure they have accurate information on the true nature of the Blues' financial picture as well as the impact of these bills on Michigan families, seniors, disabled individuals and businesses.

"It is hard for us to understand why the Legislature would rush through the process bills that are so detrimental to the health of so many in Michigan," said Chaney. "We urge Gov. Granholm to step in immediately to say she will not support bills that will hurt seniors and Michigan citizens who have health problems through no fault of our own."

SOURCE Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
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