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Letters to the editor - 4/28/02

April 29, 2002

WellPoint a good bet for Maryland health care


By James Simpson

I have spent most of my career making judgments between options - between good and bad; between good and better and, yes, between bad and worse. I chaired the Maryland Senate Finance Committee and served on the Joint Committee on Economic Development Strategy. I've run a company and served on corporate boards. I like to believe I understand the principles of business and public policy. I also like to think I know a good thing when I see it. That's why I'm having a hard time understanding why the Maryland General Assembly is on the verge of making such an unwise decision about the future of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

The proposed conversion and merger of CareFirst is, in my opinion, a good thing. Let me give you the reasons that compel me to that point of view:

- Maryland needs a strong Blues plan. The proposed merger gives us a stronger one.

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- Maryland customers need state-of-the-art products and services. The proposed merger provides them.

- Maryland needs to take care of unmet medical needs even in a climate of budget cuts. The proposed merger offers more funding to do that.

- CareFirst needs a merger partner aligned with its values and able to compete. WellPoint is that partner.

Strong Blues. The Blues have always been a trusted name in health care. I am a member of the CareFirst Board and wouldn't stake my reputation after 20 years of public service if I didn't respect this company and its commitment to serve Maryland. WellPoint also is a Blues company and has a track record of success in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Left to its own resources as a regional company, CareFirst will suffer going head to head with large national insurance companies. The result in a few years could be an ailing Blues in Maryland. That doesn't look like a good option to me.

Customer Benefits. CareFirst seeks to protect its customers' interests by seeking new resources through this merger so that it can offer expanded prescription drug and disease management programs, flexible co-pays and deductibles within plans, technology to let customers file and track claims or even change doctors online. And, as health care costs show no signs of retreating, the growth and new efficiencies offered by the merger may help to slow the rate of premium increases. These seem like the right benefits to me.

Help for Those Who Need it Most. WellPoint will pay $1.3 billion to acquire CareFirst - to be divided among Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, with Maryland getting the bulk of it. Let's say that amounts to $650 million (I think it will be more) to establish a charitable trust for health care needs. The earnings on that invested principal, plus the redirection of funds now used to provide hospital discounts plus the taxes a for-profit CareFirst would pay, would create $100 million annually that could be spent to extend health insurance options to tens of thousands of Marylanders or to vastly expand the state's senior prescription drug program. That looks like a good plan to me.

The Right Partner. WellPoint is a Blues company. It is sophisticated in its management and its products. It is one of the nation's most admired health care companies. WellPoint has been named Forbes magazine's "Best Large Health Insurance Company" and was voted Fortune's "Most Admired Health Care Company." WellPoint is dedicated to health care locally managed and locally delivered. Not only will CareFirst remain as one of Maryland's largest employers, WellPoint will put its southeast regional headquarters here. That seems like good business to me.

James Simpson serves on CareFirst's Board of Directors. He served in the Maryland Senate from 1974 to 1994 and retired as president of Simpson Distributing Company.

Got an empty nest? Consider foster parenting


To the editor:

As another year is wrapping up with school, many of you will be seeing your last child off to college. Let me tell you from experience the silence that you will hear will be deafening.

Some will enjoy the peace and quiet, but it is the other group I want to hear from. There is a way to put all those years of successful parenting to work. A group from Allegany County, Pryde of Western Maryland, has opened an office in the Hagerstown area and is in the process of training a new group of foster parents.

I have been with Pryde for more than five years and can tell you they are the best group of people to work with that you will ever find. There are many myths about foster parenting, some true, some not true, but the bottom line is that it is one opportunity for you to make a valuable difference in the life of a child. You can do long-term or short-term foster care.

Short-term does not mean that you keep children for a few months, then give them up. Sometimes children can be returned to their homes and you can be benificial in that transition.

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