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Bartlett wants 'fair' treatment of seniors

December 22, 1997

Bartlett wants 'fair' treatment of seniors

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and two fellow congressmen from Maryland have teamed up to voice constituents' concerns about a proposed insurance premium hike that will affect thousands of senior citizens in rural counties across the state.

But the effort won't affect the decision-making process, based on analysis of the insurance company's cost projections, according to a spokesman for the federal agency scrutinizing the proposal.

Roughly 2,450 Western Maryland residents - about 925 of them in Washington County - participate in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland's Medi-Care First HMO plan, which totally replaces Medicare coverage, according to company spokeswoman Karen Barrow.

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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.

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