So far, participants throughout the state haven't had to pay a premium above the Medicare premium paid through the federal Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA).
The company has requested permission from HCFA to start charging up to $75 a month in Western Maryland and other rural areas of the state where it claims that HCFA's monthly premium isn't covering costs.
The change would take effect Jan. 1, 1998.
Bartlett and Wayne T. Gilchrest, both Republicans, and Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat, sent a joint letter questioning the change to HCFA administrator Nancy Ann DeParle, according to Bartlett spokeswoman Sallie Taylor.
The company marketed the HMO plan as a no-premium program, says the Dec. 17 letter, and introducing a $75 monthly premium "could severely strain rural Maryland seniors, most of whom live on a fixed income."
Bartlett's goal in sending the letter was to make sure the Blue Cross request is carefully considered by HCFA officials, Taylor said.
"We need to be fair to our constituents and fair to these companies," she said.
Blue Cross should be congratulated for continuing to offer the coverage throughout the state, Taylor said.
The company will get higher reimbursements in rural areas starting in 1998 thanks to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, she said.
While rate change requests generally are approved, the Blue Cross request is unusual because it asks for such a sharp increase in premium, said David Sayan, of HCFA's Philadelphia office.
"This is kind of new territory," Sayan said.
A number of elected officials have contacted HCFA with concerns over the proposed rate hike, he said.
But their attention doesn't alter the decision-making process, which is based on actuarial evaluation of the company's projected expenses in affected communities based on previous expenses, Sayan said.
"We couldn't change the rules because there was congressional interest in one," he said.